Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh delivered a defensive speech at the White House on Monday night. He said he had no “bitterness” — although he was plainly bitter if not enraged when he accused the Clintonian left of orchestrating a plot to smear him. He argues that he was not appointed “to serve one party or one interest” — although he vowed at his hearing that “what goes around comes around.” He insisted he would give every litigant a fair shake and listen to cases with an open mind, but who among Senate Democrats or progressive activists believes this?
Once more, he did not apologize or retract his partisan words and nonjudicial demeanor. The speech came across — like his Fox News appearance and Wall Street Journal op-ed — as a sell job necessitated, repeatedly raising his record of hiring female clerks, by the historically low approval for his nomination. He claimed he would be a voice for unity and stability on the Supreme Court. We will see how often he is the deciding vote in 5-4 decisions.
Even worse, President Trump chose to make it a wholly partisan affair. “I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the pain and suffering you have been forced to endure,” Trump said. “You, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent.” He was proven nothing of the sort. In any event, appearing along a president bashing one political party seemed to undercut whatever Kavanaugh hoped to accomplish.
The uphill climb to earn the trust of the American people and to prevent the Supreme Court from being tainted by his arrival was evident in the results of a CNN poll released Monday. “Overall, 51% in the poll oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, up from 39% who opposed it in early September, after his initial confirmation hearing but before accusations of sexual misconduct emerged,” CNN reported. “Support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation has merely inched up, by contrast, from 38% backing him in early September to 41% now.” He has not worn well. (“The public’s take on Kavanaugh is much more negative than it was in early August, not long after President Donald Trump nominated him to fill the seat being vacated by Anthony Kennedy. Back then, 33% viewed him positively and 29% had a negative take. Now, nearly half have a negative view (47%) while 35% have a positive take.”)
Despite his argument that he is not a surrogate for any one party or interest, he starts his tenure as the most divisive justice in living memory:
Positive views of Kavanaugh among Republicans have grown at the same time, increasing 18 points from 62% in August to 80% now. Among women, 53% now have a negative view, up from 33% in August. Men split evenly, 41% positive to 41% negative, but that’s still an increase in negative impressions compared with a 40% positive to 25% negative divide in August. Shifts in impressions of Kavanaugh are coming most sharply at the extremes. The share who have a “very positive” view of Kavanaugh climbed from 17% to 24%, and “very negative” from 15% to 33%.
Contrary to GOP claims that Kavanaugh is a winning issue for the party, a majority (52 to 38 percent) of Americans believed his accusers and think he lied under oath about his alcohol use (50 to 37 percent). Moreover, “Half say Kavanaugh’s personal conduct has disqualified him to serve on the court, and 53% say his professional qualifications do not outweigh any questions about his personal conduct. A larger majority, 56%, think Kavanaugh would be influenced by his personal political beliefs when considering cases before the Supreme Court.” A small plurality (48 to 45 percent) don’t think he has the temperament to serve. Neither side looked good to voters. (“55% disapprove of the GOP in the Senate, 56% of the Democrats in the Senate.”)
The sight of Kavanaugh on the court may prove to be an ongoing source of anger and mistrust for a good deal of the country. And it is not just Kavanaugh. “All told, 56% of Americans, including 64% of women, say it’s a major problem that two of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices faced charges of sexual harassment or assault during their confirmation hearings, another 16% call that a minor problem and 23% not a problem. About half overall, 51%, see it as a problem because they believe the allegations against Kavanaugh and Justice Clarence Thomas are true, 16% say it’s a problem because they think those allegations are false and 6% aren’t sure.”
There is a price to be paid for Republicans and for Kavanaugh in using political muscle to put someone so deeply distrusted on the court. Republicans have, as we have suspected, further alienated if not infuriated women; their 5-4 court that they have striven mightily to produce now carries the stench of Republican power politics and misogyny. Unless Kavanaugh is going to turn around and betray all those White House staffers and GOP senators he profusely thanked, his future rulings on everything from abortion to partisan gerrymandering to the president’s own liability are very likely to further increase mistrust and highlight the Supreme Court’s politicization. He might consider recusing himself from some cases — that at least may assuage Americans that he is not there to block and tackle for the president.
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