Pamela Karlan, 60, is a professor of law at Stanford Law School who testified at the House impeachment inquiry before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
A clip of Karlan’s testimony went viral on Wednesday for her impassioned, fiery response to Rep. Doug Collins. The representative from Georgia suggested that Karlan and the other witnesses hadn’t fully digested a 300-page report on impeachment released by House Democrats on Tuesday.
Collins made the comments during his opening statement where he also took a shot at Karlan’s profession.
America will see why most people don’t go to law school. No offense to our professors. But please, really, we’re bringing you in here today to testify on stuff most of you have already written about, all four, for the opinions that we already know out of the classrooms that maybe you’re getting ready for finals in, to discuss things that you probably haven’t had a chance — unless you’re really good on TV of watching the hearings over the last couple of weeks, you couldn’t have possibly actually digested the Adam Schiff report from yesterday or the Republican response in any real way.
“Mr. Collins I would like to say to you, sir, that I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts,” Karlan responded. “I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts.”
Karlan then argued that President Trump “demanded” Ukraine’s interference in the 2020 election by pressuring President Zelensky to announce an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden’s ties to Burisma Holdings.
“Everything I read on those occasions tells me that when President Trump invited, indeed demanded, foreign involvement in our upcoming election, he struck at the very heart of what makes this a republic to which we pledge allegiance,” she testified.
Karlan was one of three law professors Democrats called as witnesses to testify on Wednesday. The other two witnesses were constitutional scholars Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard, and Michael J. Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina. All three agreed that President Trump’s actions constituted “high crimes and misdemeanors” and were grounds for impeachment.
Michael J. Gerhardt said Trump’s actions “are worse than the misconduct of any prior president.”
Karlan came under fire for mentioning Donald and Melania’s son, Barron, during her testimony to illustrate the difference between Trump and a king. “I will give you one example that shows you the difference between him and a king, which is, the Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility. So while Trump can name his son ‘Barron,’ he can’t make him a baron.”
The first lady responded to Karlan’s remarks on Twitter, saying “A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics. Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.” Republican lawmakers panned her remarks as well.
Karlan apologized after the hearing, saying “I want to apologize for what I said earlier about the president’s son. It was wrong of me to do that. I wish the president would apologize, obviously, for the things that he’s done that’s wrong, but I do regret having said that,”
Pamela Karlan received her bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees from Yale and is currently the director of Stanford Law School’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Karlan Wrote a Book on the 2000 Election and Recount
Karlan was a co-author of the book “When Elections Go Bad: The Law of Democracy and the Presidential Election of 2000.” The book uses the 2000 election as a springboard for discussion and according to the book synopsis “offers a comprehensive legal perspective on how disputed state and federal elections are resolved. Crucial judicial decisions and legal materials from this disputed election are examined against a broader historical, doctrinal, and analytical context.”
Karlan also appeared on TV several times back in 2000 to discuss the election and is one of the leading legal scholars on the subject.
2. Karlan Was Almost Nominated to the Supreme Court
Back in 2009, Karlan was one of the frontrunners to be nominated to the Supreme Court. An outspoken champion of gay rights, criminal defendants’ rights and voting rights, she was viewed by many as the Antonia Scalia of the left.
Barack Obama instead took the Bill Clinton strategy and selected a shortlist of judges with moderate sensibilities which included two federal appeals judges, Sonia Sotomayor of New York and Diane P. Wood of Chicago, and two members of his administration, Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Sotomayor was eventually nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court.
“If you talk about somebody who’s a true liberal, a very strong progressive and a visionary architect of the law and jurisprudence, then you’re talking about somebody like Pam Karlan at Stanford. And nobody is seriously talking about Pam Karlan.” Thomas C. Goldstein, partner at Goldstein & Russell., told the New York Times in 2009.
Barack Obama’s decision to select judges with more moderate sensibilities angered liberals but did not surprise Karlan. “Would I like to be on the Supreme Court?” she asked in graduation remarks at Stanford Law School in 2009. “You bet I would. But not enough to have trimmed my sails for half a lifetime.”
3. Karlan Has Argued 9 Cases Before the Supreme Court
While Karlan wasn’t nominated for the Supreme Court, she’s appeared before them nine times. Her most recent appearance was in October in the case of Bostock vs. Clayton County when she argued that employees should not be fired over sexual orientation.
Her cases included Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida (2017), Dolan v. United States (2009), and Herring v. United States (2007).
She’s worked on several other big cases including the affirmative action case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin and the same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges.
4. Karlan Has Criticized President Trump’s Actions Before
Back December 2016, Karlan and other liberal scholars signed a letter expressing alarm over President Trump’s statements and actions during the 2016 presidential campaign.
She criticized Trump’s actions again in 2017 after the President came under fired for asking former FBI director James Comey to shut down a federal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The BBC asked Karlan at the time what she thought of the developing scandal.
“Right now this is a president behaving extraordinarily badly,” she said. “But if it becomes clear that the president is trying to obstruct justice and Congress does nothing, that moves us towards a constitutional crisis.
“If Congress cannot fulfil its role as a check on the president, that’s a real problem.”
While Karlan has been critical of the President and leans left politically, she’s focused on his actions rather than his morals. During the impeachment hearings, she was only focused on the facts.
“Based on the evidentiary record before you, what has happened in the case before you is something that I do not think we have ever seen before: a President who has doubled down on violating his oath to faithfully execute the laws and to protect and defend the Constitution,” she said on Wednesday. “If we are to keep faith with our Constitution and our Republic, President Trump must be held to account.”
5. Karlan Identifies as Bisexual
Pamela Karlan has never shied away from talking about her sexual orientation. She once described herself as a “snarky, bisexual, Jewish women” at the 2006 ACS National Convention. Her partner is writer Viola Canales, author of The Tequila Worm.
When her name was being tossed around as a potential Supreme Court Justice nominee in 2009, she told Politico that “It’s no secret at all that I’m counted among the LGBT crowd” and knew that it would probably prevent her from being nominated, “Given the landscape, I’m flattered, but not fooled, by having my name tossed around.”
Karlan is also an advocate of LGBT rights. She argued before the Supreme Court in October 2019 in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County that federal civil rights law protects employees from job discrimination because of their sexual orientation.