Newsletter: The Stanford professor at the center of an impeachment hearing storm

Pamela Karlan
Law professor Pamela Karlan at the House Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Dec. 5, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

The House Judiciary Committee held its first impeachment hearing over the Ukraine scandal on Wednesday — and much of the internet was talking about Pamela Karlan, a bespectacled 60-year-old Stanford University law professor. Karlan, a leading constitutional scholar and voting rights expert, was one of four legal scholars chosen to discuss the “constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment.” Aside from being a semi-frequent NPR guest, hers was not a name previously widely heard outside legal circles.

[See also: “Democrats outline potential articles of impeachment against Trump” in the Los Angeles Times]

So why was seemingly everyone talking about her?


There are two reasons — one involved a savage rebuking of the House Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, and the other a probably ill-advised mention of the president’s son Barron Trump.

The first came early on in the proceedings, when Karlan excoriated Rep. Doug Collins for insinuating that she was unprepared for the proceedings. “I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts,” she shot back. And that was far from her only bout of verbal sparring with House members during the hearing.

[See also: Lawmakers are studying ‘what’s impeachable.’ Do you know?in the Los Angeles Times]

Karlan’s second viral moment came a little later, when the law professor invoked the name of Trump’s teenage son while discussing the limits of presidential power, saying, “while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.” The comment was either a relatively harmless pun about a topic that shouldn’t have been mentioned, or a morally egregious offense, depending on whom you ask. It drew a Twitter rebuke from Melania Trump, and Karlan apologized for it later in the proceedings.

Who is she?

By the end of Wednesday’s hearing, CNN was calling Karlan “a new hero for liberal law professors across the country” for her sharp testimony in favor of impeachment. But the lefty law professors of the country might quibble with the designation of their admiration as new. Karlan, who has argued nine cases before the Supreme Court, has long been lionized in the left-leaning legal community for her case work, outspoken nature and championing of gay rights, criminal defendants’ rights and voting rights. She also founded the U.S. Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford, which was the first of its kind at any law school.


The New York Times described her as “an Antonin Scalia for the left” back in 2009, when her name was being tossed around as a potential Obama Supreme Court nominee. There was speculation at the time that Karlan, who identifies as bisexual, might become the first openly LGBTQ Supreme Court nominee.

“Would I like to be on the Supreme Court? You bet I would,” she said during a commencement address in 2009. “But not enough to have trimmed my sails for half a lifetime.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


A consultant who wanted to ban feeding homeless people has been tapped to lead the agency that coordinates the federal government’s response to homelessness. The shift in leadership at the federal level comes as President Trump has repeatedly vowed to crack down on street encampments in Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere in California. Still, it remains unclear what Robert Marbut’s appointment will mean for California, home to the nation’s largest homeless population. Legally, the Trump administration has limited options to open shelters or use police to clear encampments — although there is some appetite among L.A. County residents to have law enforcement be more involved. Los Angeles Times


The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a law Wednesday that will crack down on campaign contributions from real estate developers, despite warnings from critics who said it had been too watered down to curb the power of political spending. Los Angeles Times

Why are symbols of the Cuban revolution plastered on a cluster of apartment buildings in Santa Monica? Meet the 86-year-old landlord who pays tribute to Cuba and her pro-Castro ideals through her rental properties. Los Angeleno

With Sen. Kamala Harris out of the race, where do her celebrity donors go next? The Hollywood primary continues... Los Angeles Times

L.A. will pay $4 million to end a lawsuit from a woman whose car plunged into a sinkhole in Studio City. The gaping hole abruptly opened up under her car near the intersection of Woodbridge Street and Laurel Canyon Boulevard in 2017. Los Angeles Times

These L.A. homes come with a $1-million property tax bill. Yes, you read that right. (And yes, property taxes need to be paid by Tuesday to avoid a penalty.) Here are the 12 L.A. homeowners expected to cough up at least seven figures, and their respective mansions. Los Angeles Times

New USC President Carol L. Folt is standing behind Mike Bohn and the process that led the new athletic director to retain head football coach Clay Helton. USC football fans are less enthusiastic, to say the least. Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


California’s campaign watchdog agency has suspended a long-standing policy banning its members from contributing to federal candidates after one commissioner donated to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid. Los Angeles Times

Pasadena is suing itself to try to remove a cannabis initiative from next year’s ballot. “Yes, this is highly unusual,” said the local paper. Pasadena Star-News


Body-camera footage shows a police officer firing repeatedly as a 15-year-old runs into an orchard in a rural part of the Central Valley near Ceres. The officer fatally shot the boy after a high-speed car chase. Modesto Bee


Tainted romaine lettuce from California’s Salinas Valley has been linked to 102 illnesses in 23 states, health authorities reported Wednesday. Los Angeles Times


The four victims of the Fresno mass shooting will be laid to rest this month with traditional Hmong funerals. Here are some ways to support their families. Fresno Bee

There will be only one video rental store left on the Central Coast after the beloved John’s Video Palace closes its doors in Atascadero later this month. San Luis Obispo Tribune

The Angels and Anaheim have reached a deal for the team to stay in city through 2050. Los Angeles Times

Upgrades will silence San Francisco’s emergency sirens for the next two years. Yes, there are still text alerts, but not everybody gets them. “If you do receive the alerts, it’s really important to check on your neighbors to make sure they got it as well.” San Francisco Chronicle


Los Angeles: cloudy, 65. San Diego: partly sunny, 67. San Francisco: cloudy, 59. San Jose: cloudy, 62. Sacramento: cloudy, 60. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Michael Bettendorf:

“Last month, my Berkeley-born daughter, now at UCLA, invited me to see Brian Wilson speak on the UCLA campus. I struggled to explain to her what it was like growing up in Iowa and listening incessantly to Beach Boys records on the tiny record player in my room, images of fantasy-world California flooding my head. When I got admitted to Cal in 1987, of course I came to Berkeley; I found the fantasy real, and I never left. I told her: ‘Brian Wilson is probably the reason I live in California. And, by extension, the reason *you* live in California.’ ”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.