Thursday, 14 December 2017
What Harassers Take From All of Us
https://www.nytimes.com/newsletters/2017/12/13/the-interpreter Judge Alex Kozinski in 2014 J. David Ake/Associated Press Last week Heidi Bond, a former law clerk to Judge Alex Kozinski, accused the prominent judge of sexually harassing her while she was working in his chambers a decade ago. Her story, like all of the #MeToo revelations, is deeply upsetting. But that isn’t the reason I have been thinking about it, more or less constantly, since The Washington Post published its article about her allegations last Friday. The reason is that I remember Heidi Bond. While she was in law school at the University of Michigan she wrote a blog called Letters of Marque. It was confident and witty, and covered eclectic subjects ranging from obscure case law to predictions about how the Harry Potter series might end. And it was popular, at least within the legal blogosphere. Professors would regularly link and cite her posts in roundups of what people were saying or thinking about some particular issue in legal news. And as a law student myself, that meant everything to me. Here was an example of a woman — a young one! Still a student! Only a year ahead of me in school! — whose opinions had made her someone people listened to. That was unusual enough that she didn’t make it seem easy to do what she did. But she made it seem possible. It’s astonishing now to think what an impression that made. I didn’t know her personally, but that didn’t matter. Just one example of a person who was like me doing something like that was enough to plant the idea, somewhere in the back of my mind, that maybe I should consider doing it too. Eventually, I did: after graduation a lawyer friend and I started our own blog. That grew into freelance assignments, then a job. And now I do this. She wasn’t the only reason I went into this line of work, of course. But I do think she made a difference. And research suggests that’s actually a pretty common pattern. A recent study by the Equality of Opportunity Project, a research program run jointly by Stanford, Brown, and Harvard, found that women were dramatically more likely to become inventors if, as children, they had encountered female inventors. Examples matter. Exposure matters. And exposure to Heidi Bond’s work mattered enough to me that I still remember it now, over a decade later. But I also remember that shortly after law school, Heidi Bond disappeared from public life. Letters of Marque was deleted. She never became a law professor, even after finishing her subsequent clerkships with Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy. I occasionally wondered idly where she had gone, but never really looked for her — the closest I came was occasionally googling her old guest posts to reassure myself I hadn’t invented her entirely. In a recent piece on her website, she explains what happened: “If you did not know about Kozinski, it would be impossible to understand my career choices. I applied for jobs as a law professor, but I pulled out of the UCLA interview a month before I was scheduled to visit — I couldn’t bear to be anywhere I might see him on a regular basis. I withdrew from the hiring process at the University of Michigan, my alma mater — when I did the campus visit, it reminded me too much of who I had been before the clerkship, and I couldn’t handle the memory.” “I got job offers and warm congratulations, and they hurt so much I could barely acknowledge them. I could not escape the notion that my career success was built entirely on my silence, and it poisoned any joy I could have found in the job I did take.” In other words, the harassment tainted her career so much that even though she had access to some of the most coveted jobs in the country, she wanted nothing to do with them. She left the legal profession entirely, and is now a successful romance novelist writing under the name Courtney Milan. The Interpreter is a column about the big picture. So let’s think about the systemic and institutional consequences of this kind of harassment. A clerkship in Judge Kozinski’s chambers is — or at least has been until this week — one of the most powerful career boosts any young lawyer can receive. He is one of a small group of judges known as “feeders” to the Supreme Court, whose clerk selection is more of an anointing than a hiring. The young lawyers those judges hire go on to storied careers. In addition to clerking for the Supreme Court, they become law professors who develop legal theory. They become elite lawyers at the Department of Justice who advise the federal government on the limits of the law. They become judges who shape American jurisprudence. And one of the consequences of Judge Kozinski’s behavior toward women was that women had less access to those incredible opportunities. Alexandra Brodsky, a civil rights attorney, wrote on Twitter that when she was at Yale, “everyone knew, and women didn't apply to clerk for Judge Kozinski despite his prestige and connections to the Supreme Court. I always felt the men who took their places were traitors.” “I have told countless female law students that I would never write them a letter of recommendation for a clerkship with him, and I have told them why,” Nancy Rapoport, a professor at the University of Nevada, wrote on her personal blog. “I didn’t want them ever to be at risk of being sexually harassed by him. I have told some of my female colleagues not to be alone with him, and for the same reason.” Think again about that study about the impact of seeing people similar to you doing aspirational jobs. How many more women would have gone on to greater things if clerking for Judge Kozinski were a truly equal-opportunity situation? And then how many other, younger women would have seen them as role models or inspirations, and gone on to greater things themselves? Conversely, how many of the men who were able to clerk for Judge Kozinski without having to worry about their own safety went on to be role models for other men? And how many concluded that their female colleagues fell behind because they just didn’t have what it takes, not because they had been effectively cut off from certain opportunities? I have heard countless people, over the years, conclude that women don’t occupy as many senior positions because they just don’t “try as hard” as men, or have the “ambition” to reach the highest-level jobs, or because they care too much about “work-life balance.” Maybe sometimes. But these accusations should remind us that some doors that look like they’re open to everyone are really closed to some. And that the consequences of that reach far beyond the individual victims.