On Wednesday, shortly after Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, President Donald Trump released a short-list of candidates for his next SCOTUS nominee.
One of those candidates is Robert P. Young, Jr., the newly-appointed Michigan State University Vice President and General Counsel, who is being accused of obstructing the state’s investigation into MSU’s handling of sexual abuse allegations against Larry Nassar.
The Michigan attorney general’s office has accused Young and MSU of “wrongfully withholding information” and liberally applying the concept of attorney-client privilege, solely in an effort to impede the state’s independent investigation, according to the Detroit News. To date, MSU has withheld 1,500 emails from investigators.
Young is a long-time friend and political ally of MSU’s embattled interim president John Engler. During his time as Governor, Engler appointed Young to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1998. Young served until 2017, when he stepped down to launch an ill-fated campaign for U.S. Senate.
After Young suspended his bowtie-branded campaign in January because of a lack of funding, Engler appointed him lead counsel at MSU, tasking him with overseeing multiple investigations and Title IX complaints the university faced in the wake of the Nassar case.
Nassar survivors and sexual assault prevention advocates criticized Young’s appointment due to his close relationship with Engler, and his past rulings on sexual assault cases.
In fact, MSU and USA Gymnastics — another former Nassar employer also caught up in legal disputes from his victims — have both favorably cited Young’s opinions in their respective motions to have Nassar-related cases against them dismissed.
One of those controversial rulings came in 2007, in the Michigan Supreme Court case Brown vs. Brown. In that case, Lisa Brown, a security guard working the night shift at a Detroit steel plant, was raped by her co-worker, Michael Brown (unrelated). Before the rape, Michael had repeatedly told Lisa that he wanted to pull her hair while having sex with her, among other sexually suggestive comments. Lisa reported Michael’s comments at least three times to managers, but nothing was done.
However, Young’s opinion was that the managers at the steel plant were not negligent to keep Michael on staff after Lisa’s report, and that they had no inclination that Michael would rape Lisa.
“Modern workplace speech is, at times, boorish and undesirable,” Young wrote, adding that “Brown’s words were crude and highly offensive. However, he said, “Comments of a sexual nature do not inexorably lead to criminal sexual conduct any more than an exasperated, angry comment inexorably results in a violent criminal assault.”
In 2000, Young sided with the majority of the Michigan Supreme Court when it ruled that the operator of a drop-in center for adults with emotional or mental disabilities wasn’t liable for an employee sexually assaulting a developmentally disabled woman, despite the fact that the employee — who had keys to the facility — had previously been convicted of molesting a woman with mental disabilities.
A couple of months ago, Young represented MSU in its $500 million settlement with more than 300 Nassar survivors. But John Manly, an attorney who represents many of the survivors, told the Detroit News it was clear during mediation that Young’s understanding of sexual assault has not evolved over the years, and that he “fundamentally misunderstands the dynamics of sexual abuse and sexual assault as he continues to see these victims as MSU’s adversaries.”