In Brett Kavanaugh’s hysterical 45-minute opening statement, he showed the exact kind of temperament that should be disqualifying for a federal judge, let alone a Supreme Court justice. Even when setting aside the multiple sexual misconduct allegations against him, his partisanship and unhinged emotional state is reason enough for the senate to vote down his confirmation.
Early on in his statement, Kavanaugh described Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s late-breaking sexual assault accusation as Democrats exacting “revenge” for the 2016 presidential election. He also blamed Democrats for destroying his reputation and his “good name,” saying there was a “frenzy on the left” to commit character assassination with a sexual assault allegation.
“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election,” Kavanaugh said during his Thursday afternoon testimony. “Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside, left-wing opposition groups.”
Kavanaugh’s snarling demeanor and fraught emotional state is not characteristic of Supreme Court justices, who are supposed to be nonpartisan, rational, dispassionate interpreters of the Constitution and federal law. In 2010, Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito was widely panned for merely mouthing the words “not true” during the State of the Union speech, when then-President Barack Obama criticized the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, which greatly expanded the influence of “dark money” spending in federal elections.
One of the biggest complaints about Sonia Sotomayor — Obama’s first Supreme Court appointment — was about her “judicial activism.” Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), who questioned both Sotomayor and Kavanaugh as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009 and 2018, respectively, said at the time there were “areas of concern” about Sotomayor’s judicial discipline. Republicans took issue with Sotomayor making remarks about law professor Martha Minnow’s argument that there was no universal definition of the word “wise” in how people with different life experiences interpret certain things.
“Americans believe … that judges should by definition show self-restraint and respect for the other branches of government,” Cornyn said.
If Sotomayor was criticized for merely suggesting that Latina women have better knowledge about the Latina experience than white male judges, why are Republicans not protesting Brett Kavanaugh’s nakedly partisan attacks on Democrats?
The confirmation process for Supreme Court justices has been characterized as a job interview by both elected officials and pundits alike. The U.S. Senate’s slogan is “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said as much in a 2014 speech. Founding father and first U.S. president George Washington made the distinction between the House and Senate as saying “we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”
Likewise, the Supreme Court — as well as the judicial branch of the federal government in general — is seen as an institution that is typically less hot-headed than other branches. A recent letter to the editor published in the Des Moines Register lamented that “purely partisan nominations have begun to undermine the credibility of the court.”
“The court’s role in the republic depends on it being an impartial umpire, calling balls and strikes without prejudice and without openly taking sides,” the letter read. “A court whose decisions are, or at least appear to be, prejudiced and political is not a court to be respected and is a danger to both the rule of law and the republic. All such nominations should be rejected.”
Republicans seeking a truly independent Supreme Court that can be a check on the executive and legislative branches should seek out justices that can be reliably shown to not have any preference for any one particular political party. Kavanaugh’s performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee suggests that he’ll put his loyalty to the Republican Party before loyalty to the Constitution.
Even without an FBI investigation into the claims of sexual misconduct made by Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick, Kavanaugh’s partisanship shows that he should not only have his nomination rejected by the senate, but that he should resign from his position on the U.S. Court of Appeals.