A few days after President Trump nominated Brett M. Kavanaugh to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the retirement of Anthony M. Kennedy, the White House released letters meant to bolster support for the nominee.
There were three: one from 242 alumni of Yale University (where Kavanaugh had attended college), one from 26 state attorneys general and one from 18 former law clerks of Kavanaugh. In total, nearly 300 people offered support for his nomination.
In early September, though, those names were countered by a lengthy letter from the Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. That group sent a letter to the senators who would vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and it included the names of over 1,500 Catholic clergy members.
That was just the beginning. On Sept. 14, after reports of a letter alleging that Kavanaugh had assaulted someone in high school emerged, a group of 65 female contemporaries of Kavanaugh released a letter expressing support for his nomination and rejecting the then-still-anonymous allegations he faced.
That number later dropped to 64, after one signer, Renate Schroeder Dolphin, removed her name on learning that Kavanaugh’s yearbook contained disparaging comments about her.
After Christine Blasey Ford stepped forward as the person making the assault allegation, alumnae of her high school, Holton-Arms, drafted a letter of support for her. It now includes over 1,200 names.
They were joined in short order by several hundred professional colleagues of Ford.
On Sept. 23, another accuser stepped forward: Deborah Ramirez, who alleges that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while they were students at Yale. Within days, male and female alumni of Yale signed on to letters offering support for Ramirez. As of writing, those letters include more than 4,500 names.
Last week, Ford and Kavanaugh appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to offer their sides of the story. Kavanaugh’s testimony — often angry and including misleading information — spurred a number of law school professors to sign yet another letter opposing his nomination. About 900 female professors signed one letter; a letter hosted by the New York Times now includes nearly 1,800 signatories.
Some of the signatories to these letters are duplicates, as is certainly the case in those last two letters. We may also have missed some letters. (Feel free to email if so.)
But, as of writing, the numbers are remarkable. More than 10,000 people have signed some sort of letter supporting Kavanaugh or his accusers or opposing his confirmation. The overwhelming majority falls into the latter two categories; only about 3 percent of the signatures are on letters meant to bolster his nomination. Put another way, 1 out of every 30,800 Americans got engaged in the nomination process by signing a letter offering an opinion on Kavanaugh.
It’s a function of the era in two ways. The first is that the Internet facilitates the process of securing commitments to sign on to a letter, and Facebook, in particular, trivializes the process of identifying alumni of particular schools. The second is that the Kavanaugh nomination is perhaps uniquely polarizing, in a moment in which people are more likely to speak out about politics than at any other time in the recent past.
The result? An unusual expression of support. But despite that engagement, the decision on Kavanaugh’s nomination still comes down to the 100 people in the U.S. Senate.