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Opinion I, too, majored in beer at Yale

Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh testifies at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.
Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh testifies at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

My roommates and I got a low draw in the dorm-room lottery sophomore year at Yale and wound up in a suite on York Street overlooking Demery’s, a dive frequented by motorcycle gang members because of its cheap beer and huge triangles of the world’s worst pizza.

Often on weeknights we would be kept awake by what we dubbed “fight night,” when the bar’s patrons spilled onto the street at closing time, shouting and throwing punches until the police came.

Little did we know that we were witnessing a piece of history.

Participating in one such fight-night melee of that era, we are now learning, was apparently none other than future Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. To make it more bizarre, Kavanaugh’s companion at the time of this bar fight was Chris Dudley, then a 6-foot-11 Yale basketball star who went on to be one of the worst free-throw shooters in NBA history.

A police report puts Kavanaugh at Demery’s after 1 a.m. one weeknight during fall term in 1985 (a year before I arrived at Yale) throwing ice at a man, and then Dudley throwing a glass and cutting the man’s ear. Adding to the surrealism, Kavanaugh reportedly mistook the man for Ali Campbell of the British reggae band UB40.

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It’s theoretically possible that Kavanaugh was at Demery’s at 1 a.m. having a Coke with his pizza. Likewise, it’s theoretically possible Kavanaugh pledged the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale even though he didn’t like to get drunk a lot — in the same way it’s also possible that somebody might join the Whiffenpoofs even though he doesn’t like to sing.

I didn’t know Kavanaugh at Yale. We overlapped for a year. But I’m chagrined to admit that I am extensively familiar with the Yale drinking scene of the time, and from mutual friends and acquaintances I have a good sense of the 1980s Kavanaugh and his alcohol intake.

This much is obvious: He’s not being honest.

To be clear, I’m not addressing the allegations of sexual misbehavior. But it’s just silly to dispute that he drank a lot.

This by itself shouldn’t be disqualifying. Indeed, it was common. But Kavanaugh has attempted to portray himself as a bookworm who studied whenever he wasn’t practicing basketball. Such nonsense inevitably invited this unseemly spectacle of classmates coming forth with tales of drunkenness.

Kavanaugh said he always remembered what happened when he drank, and he disputed notions that he was “frequently drunk” or a “sloppy drunk.” Said he, under oath: “I was in Cross Campus Library every night.”

President Trump picked up on this image of the sober scholar, repeatedly saying Kavanaugh was “number one in his class at Yale.”

Yale didn’t calculate class rank, and Kavanaugh’s “cum laude” status was shared by nearly half the class back then. I am living proof that the distinction didn’t demonstrate academic brilliance or evidence of sobriety.

And if Kavanaugh was working hard “every night” in Cross Campus Library (a subterranean geek haven, with what were called “weenie bins” for isolation), he was working even harder to conceal it: When he got into Yale Law School, his peers were shocked to learn that this guy’s-guy had such brains.

Kavanaugh was a frat boy, and DKE was the most notorious frat, populated by jocks and known for multi-keg bashes. Fraternity membership wasn’t common then, but they hosted “Tang” (a speed beer-drinking competition) and the “keg suck.”

Many of these party animals were also smart. One DKE man my year, if memory serves, stuck quarters in his nostrils and rode the Zamboni dressed as Captain Freedom during hockey intermissions; now he’s a leading surgeon.

Drinking was a big part of the overall Yale culture. There was “Feb Club,” a rotating party every night in February, to get us through winter. Graves grain alcohol spiked our punch. Tragically, one sophomore died of alcohol poisoning during my freshman year.

I’m not proud of it, but I was very much part of that culture, and I did any number of things — The stolen parking meter? That unfortunate business with Mike Wallace and the trumpet? — that would surely doom my Supreme Court nomination if it weren’t already sunk by lack of qualification.

I won’t fault Kavanaugh for majoring in beer when I pursued similar coursework. But his failure to come clean about this past is another matter.

He clearly calculated that any admission of blacking out, or anything less than 100 percent recall, would discredit his denial of the sexual misconduct allegations. But admitting the obvious about his boozy college years would at least have avoided this ludicrous litigation over a UB40 doppelganger at Demery’s.

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Read more:

Chris Coons: We need the facts on Kavanaugh. Here’s how the FBI can get them.

George Thomas: Don’t forget about Kavanaugh’s troubling legal philosophy

Marc A. Thiessen: Rachel Mitchell expertly eviscerates the case against Kavanaugh

Kathleen Parker: What’s wrong with judging a man by his life’s record?

Ruth Marcus: Does it matter what Kavanaugh did in high school? Well, yes.