Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justices, left and right agree, are just a show. The nominee is cagey and evasive, the senators grandstand for the cameras, and we don’t get anything like a true picture of who the potential justice really is.
The extraordinary performance by Brett Kavanaugh was not just unusual, it may have been the most revealing testimony we’ve ever gotten from a Supreme Court nominee. If you wanted to know who this man really was, he sure showed you.
Everything that came before turned out to be either a partial and misleading snapshot or an outright attempt at deception. The letters from friends testifying to how lovely and supportive he is toward women, the ludicrous Fox News interview where he portrayed his youth as just short of saintly (“I was focused on academics and athletics, going to church every Sunday at Little Flower, working on my service projects, and friendship”), his insistence at his first round of hearings that he remains blissfully free of any influence other than the sacred texts of law and Constitution (“A good judge must be an umpire — a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy”) — none of that helped us understand the real Brett Kavanaugh.
But now we’ve seen him in full. And what did we learn? Let’s see:
Kavanaugh is an intense Republican partisan. To be honest, I was surprised it took this long for this fact to become clear. In the past decade, I’ve heard people say numerous times that the guy Republicans would really love to have on the Supreme Court is Brett Kavanaugh, but he probably can’t be nominated because he’s known as too much of a partisan hack. He worked for Ken Starr, where he urged that Bill Clinton be questioned in the most lurid way possible. He worked on the George W. Bush legal team during the 2000 Florida debacle. He worked in the Bush White House. He might have the qualifications, the argument went, but a hard-charging partisan like him would be too controversial. Yet somehow that reality got wiped away in all the encomiums to his brilliant mind and stellar record.
On Thursday, no doubt realizing that the only way to save his nomination was to reinforce feelings of party loyalty among Republican senators, Kavanaugh not only came out swinging at Democrats, he made clear that he’s a Supreme Court nominee for the age of negative partisanship. I deserve to be on the court, he said in effect, because I hate Democrats as much as you do. This part of his testimony sounded like what you hear from Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity:
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, 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.
Read that and the other things he said about Democrats (“The behavior of several of the Democratic members of this committee at my hearing a few weeks ago was an embarrassment”), combine it with his history as a Republican operative, and ask whether you think Kavanaugh will be “a neutral and impartial arbiter” when it comes to questions that come before the court where Republicans are on one side and Democrats are on the other. The very idea is absurd.
Kavanaugh is angry, belligerent and unable to restrain his emotions. I know: Republicans will say, “If this was happening to you, you’d be angry, too!” But just look at the contrast between how Christine Blasey Ford conducted herself on Thursday and the way Kavanaugh did. She’s been thrust into the spotlight; she’s been the target of vicious attacks and death threats; she’s had to move her family out of their home for their safety; she’s been called a liar and a fabulist and part of a conspiracy. And how did she act? With calmness, dignity and restraint.
How did Kavanaugh act? He shouted, he cried, he interrupted senators trying to ask him questions, he was rude and contemptuous and generally unhinged. At one point, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked him whether he had ever drunk so much that he forgot events that occurred — a highly relevant question given the allegations against him — and he replied, “I don’t know, have you?” like some kind of petulant teenager. Klobuchar was stunned for a moment, then said, “Could you answer the question, judge? That’s not happened, is that your answer?” He replied: “Yeah, and I’m curious if you have.”
Kavanaugh is dishonest. Kavanaugh has lied and dissembled to the Judiciary Committee on numerous counts. He began his first round of testimony by saying “No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination” — an obvious lie. He claimed not to have known Democratic documents he trafficked in during previous judicial fights had been stolen, which badly strained credulity.
In Thursday’s hearing he kept it up. He repeatedly said that others had “refuted” Ford’s account of her sexual assault, when that isn’t true — they only said they had no memory of it, something very different. Perhaps because of the accounts of multiple people who knew him in high school and college of his frequent excessive drinking, Kavanaugh changed his story about his virtually sin-free youth. Now he portrayed himself as a regular drinker (“I like beer”) but not someone who ever got blackout drunk. He said that high school seniors were allowed to drink because the drinking age in Maryland was 18 at the time, but that is false — by the time he was 18, the drinking age in the state had been raised to 21.
He also gave utterly ridiculous explanations of the multiple references in his yearbook to drinking and sexual boasting. Was the “Beach City Ralph Club” a reference to frequent vomiting from excessive drinking? Oh no, it’s merely because he has “a weak stomach, whether it’s with beer or spicy food or anything.” What about the reference to “Devil’s Triangle,” a nickname for a threesome with two men and one woman? Nuh-uh, that’s “a drinking game,” like quarters. Right.
In what may have been the most despicable moment of the entire day, Kavanaugh was questioned about how he and his buddies had claimed in their yearbook entries to be “Renate alumni,” referring to a girl at a nearby school — an obvious attempt at sexual boasting and slut shaming. He not only claimed ludicrously that the references were only there because they all valued her friendship so highly, but pretended to be outraged that a senator would even imply otherwise, posing as the gallant defender of her honor, the girl he and his friends set out to make an object of ridicule and humiliation.
By the time you read this, Kavanaugh will be on the road to approval by the 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee and from there to a vote in the full Senate, where the outcome is uncertain. But think about the man you saw on Thursday — that angry, entitled, disrespectful, uncontrolled man appealing not to the country but to his party to rally around him in order to stick it to the other side — and ask yourself if he demonstrated the kind of temperament you’d want on the Supreme Court.