The most consequential facts about Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court, are two numbers: 53 and 27.
According to the Social Security Administration’s actuarial tables, the average life expectancy for a 53-year-old American male is an additional 27 years. That means Kavanaugh can be expected to play a major role in our lives for at least two decades — probably two and a half, given that justices tend to hang on into their eighties. His elevation to the high court will affect me, my children and my grandchildren.
And he probably will, indeed, be so elevated. We don’t know what might be unearthed in his long paper trail of opinions and other writings, and we don’t know what might emerge during his Senate confirmation hearings. But based on what we do know, he is clearly more conservative than Kennedy — for whom he once clerked — and is probably palatable to Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who might have balked at a nominee who had telegraphed a readiness to overturn Roe v. Wade.
If Collins and Murkowski stay on board — and no other Republican senator surprisingly wavers — then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has the votes to confirm Kavanaugh. It has been said before, but I’ll say it again until Democrats get it through their skulls: Elections have consequences.
Democrats need to fight a good, tough fight against Kavanaugh’s nomination, not just because the base demands it, or because Merrick Garland wasn’t even given a hearing, but because Kavanaugh will likely tilt the court to the right on a variety of issues, in ways that run counter to what the Democratic Party stands for. And if one or more Republicans do express serious doubts, then it will be important for all Democratic senators to stand together. It should not be a Democratic vote that puts Kavanaugh over the top.
But if there are no GOP defections, then vulnerable red-state Democratic senators should be released to vote however they must in order to get reelected. The party’s priority, at this point, should be regaining some measure of power. It cannot afford to sacrifice a precious Senate seat in the name of ideological purity — not if the battle is already lost.
Democrats should focus, in that case, on the one sure way of having more say over the next Supreme Court nomination: Win the Senate. And then, in 2020, win the White House.