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Indelible in the hippocampus is Brett Kavanaugh

Some Republican senators considering Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination are still hung up on what happened with Kavanaugh

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) talks with Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) during Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation hearing on March 21. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson are historic, in that Jackson is the first Black woman to be nominated to serve on the highest court. They are also historical, in that some Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are still hung up on recent history — namely, grievance in the name of the most recent White man confirmed to the court.

“We won’t get down in the gutter like Democrats did during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s ranking Republican.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) noted that Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings had been marked by “accusations of a personal nature.”

Neither of these lawmakers mentioned what Christine Blasey Ford had accused Kavanaugh of doing when they were teenagers — pinning her to a bed at a gathering, groping her and covering her mouth when she tried to yell for help. Kavanaugh emphatically denied Ford’s accusations. Ford, a professor of psychology, testified during the Kavanaugh hearings that the laughter of Kavanaugh and a friend during the alleged assault was “indelible in the hippocampus,” a reference to a part of the brain that has a role in memory.

Lee euphemizing the allegations against Kavanaugh as “accusations of a personal nature” was not as galling as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) telling Jackson just how easy she had it. “You’re the beneficiary of a lot,” Graham told her, with apparent seriousness. “You’re the beneficiary of Republican nominees having their lives turned upside down,” he said.

“Most of us couldn’t go back to our offices during Kavanaugh without getting spit on,” he said. “I hope that doesn’t happen to you all.”

“No one is going to inquire about your teenage dating habits,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) assured Jackson, as if asking a judge to answer allegations that he tried to force himself on a fellow teenager is akin to asking a judge whom he took to junior prom.

To listen to all of this, one would think Kavanaugh had been arrested, sentenced and exiled to Elba following his hearings instead of — checks notes — being successfully confirmed for the Supreme Court.

The conversations we might have had if the Kavanaugh hearings had gone differently

I cannot presume to know what was happening in Jackson’s head as senator after senator added new verses to the ballad of Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh, who angrily lashed back at his critics during one of his hearings, suggested that he was the target of “a calculated and orchestrated political hit” and “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.”

At Monday’s hearing, Jackson’s face was inscrutable, set with a resolute smile through the bloviations of Republican senators whose approval she will almost certainly not receive no matter what happens in the hearings. I would say Jackson had the patience of a saint, but it’s probably more accurate to say she had exactly the amount of patience required from all Black women on a daily basis. Can you imagine working as hard as Jackson has — Harvard, a Supreme Court clerkship, judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals — and then having your hearings haunted by the specter of a man who already has the job?

As we contemplate this idea of Democrats getting “down in the gutter” with Republican nominees, it’s worth noting that Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett, two other Trump-appointed conservatives, were confirmed to the court without so much as a rumor of sexual misconduct. It’s almost as though sexual misconduct allegations become an issue at Supreme Court confirmation hearings not via revenge on behalf of the Clintons but rather via an actual person believing they were subjected to sexual misconduct by the nominee.

Truly, you can almost understand why these senators stood behind Kavanaugh four years ago. Their goal was to get their man, and they got him, however messy and damaging for the country the hearings ultimately ended up being. But you might have hoped that the passing of time would prompt reflection, or even embarrassment. One might have assumed they would like to leave those seedy hearings behind and forget all about them.

Instead, Kavanaugh has become the plastic skeleton in the Judiciary Committee’s closet that gets dragged out for one too many holidays — a mascot more than a fright.

At Monday’s confirmation hearings, Republican senators seemed to want to be congratulated for refraining to treat Jackson the same way that Kavanaugh was treated. They should have stopped to remember why Kavanaugh was treated that way to begin with.

As for Jackson, Republicans should feel free to bring forward anyone who believes they were personally victimized by President Biden’s nominee in a way Republicans think might disqualify her from serving on the court. That’s not an attack of a personal nature. It’s the nature of being vetted for public service.