Yale Law School Merit Awards a “Travesty of the Highest Order”

“It is a travesty of the highest order to honor as ‘meritorious’ those who openly and notoriously trample the Constitution,” said Yale Law School alum Timothy L. Jenkins (’64) in response to Yale’s Award of Merit for Clarence Thomas (’74) and Samuel A. Alito Jr. (’75).

A veteran of the Civil Rights Movement and Teaching for Change board member, Jenkins expressed his dismay in a letter to the University fundraising committee this week. 

Rachel and Jackie Robinson in discussion with James Farmer of CORE, Timothy Jenkins of SNCC, and Mr. & Mrs. Goodman, the parents of Andrew Goodman.
Marian Logan and Jackie Robinson in discussion with James Farmer of CORE, Timothy L. Jenkins of SNCC, and the parents of Andrew Goodman. one of the three civil rights workers slain in Philadelphia, Miss. on June 21, 1964. Image source: “Jackie Robinson, An Intimate Portrait” p. 185.

Jenkins’ letter (below) can serve as an inspiration to all of us to speak up when institutions give awards that contradict their mission, all too often motivated by politics or funding.

To the Yale Law School Fundraising Committee:

Having ignored your repeated solicitations to give to the Yale Law School Fund this year, I owe you more than silence for my refusal to accede to your requests, as a matter of conscience.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Sonia Sotomayor, and Clarence Thomas at Yale on October 25, 2014 where they received the Yale Award of Merit for “their contributions to the legal profession.”

As one who considers it the hallmark of his Law School career and since to have strongly aided and abetted the passage and fulfillment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, I am both appalled and outraged that my Law School, long celebrated for enlightenment, had the flawed judgement, dare I say audacity, to bestow its “Award of Merit” to graduates, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, who bear the stain of having eviscerated the promise of that blood-won legislation on the eve of its 50th anniversary.

Ignoring the lessons of history and today’s facts of life, they helped comprise the Court’s majority to re-open the door to Black and Hispanic disenfranchisement second only to the willfully blind destruction of the Taney Court in Dred Scott and the later taint of Plessy v Ferguson as evidenced in the avalanche of noxious new voting legislation now belching from emboldened state legislatures across the nation.

Herbert Lee was one of thousands of people killed or injured for attempting to exercise the right to vote.

While not a career lawyer in civil rights, my civic and political common sense tells me that it is a travesty of the highest order to honor as “meritorious” those who openly and notoriously trample the Constitution as evidenced in their decision of Shelby County Alabama v. Holder.

As such, the “corporate person” of Yale Law School Alumni and its leadership owe an apology to its members and the interested public, rather than a routine philanthropic solicitation in the face of this short-sighted ceremonial sacrilege.

Honors should be morally purposeful and not morally thoughtless, if not depraved.


Timothy L. Jenkins, Yale Law 1964

Related resource: “An Open Letter to Justice Clarence Thomas from a Federal Judicial Colleague” by Leon Higginbotham Jr., November 29, 1991.