Stevens, who served on the Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010, told the audience that he had praised one of Kavanaugh’s rulings on campaign finance in a book that Stevens wrote in 2014.
“At that time, I thought [Kavanaugh] had the qualifications for the Supreme Court should he be selected,” Stevens said, according to the Palm Beach Post. “I’ve changed my views for reasons that have no relationship to his intellectual ability. . . . I feel his performance in the hearings ultimately changed my mind.”
At a Sept. 27 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Kavanaugh denied allegations of sexual assault as a teenager and said he was the victim of a “calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election.”
In his testimony, Kavanaugh angrily defended his honor and was at times contemptuous toward his Democratic questioners.
On Thursday, Stevens noted that both senators and commentators said Kavanaugh’s defense of his reputation crossed a line.
“I think there’s merit to that criticism and I think the senators should really pay attention to that,” Stevens said at an event held by the Institute for Learning in Retirement.
Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino, who questioned Stevens at the event, said in an interview that he had intended to ask the retired justice about the Kavanaugh confirmation process. But before he could, Stevens “actually brought the subject up,” Cerabino said. “I was surprised.”
Stevens was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Gerald R. Ford and was known at the time as a moderate conservative. Over his decades on the court, he became a reliable member of the court’s liberal wing.
Since retiring, he has written books and given speeches. He made waves recently by denouncing the Second Amendment in an op-ed for the New York Times.
Kavanaugh and his allies have touted the recognition the judge received from Stevens regarding a decision on whether foreigners may contribute to U.S. political campaigns. Kavanaugh, who has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 2006, said in a speech that he was touched to have received a note from Stevens praising the decision.
Like almost every other current member of the Supreme Court, Stevens also has hired a former Kavanaugh clerk to work for him.