I Know Brett Kavanaugh, But I Wouldn't Confirm Him 


If I were a senator, I would not vote for Brett Kavanaugh.

These are words I write with no pleasure. It brings me no pleasure to hear my long, bloodied witch nails scrape against my keyboard as I type sentences like, “I spent a lot of time this weekend thinking about Oliver Cromwell’s famous letter to the Church of Scotland.” Still, I am compelled to write them.

I know that some people—the sort of people who lack my discernment and general remove from the material consequences of our politics—will read these words with glee, a validation of their immature political bias. Unlike them, I have no hostility to or particular fear of conservative jurisprudence. When the Supreme Court recently deprived public sector unions of the ability to collect agency fees, landing an immediate and substantial blow against the political bearing of organized labor, I thought: “How interesting.” When it was recently revealed that my friend Brett Kavanaugh, contrary to what he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, may not in fact view Roe v. Wade as settled precedent, I thought: “I am curious, though uninvested and untroubled, about how this will all turn out.”

If we believe one woman as a credible narrator of her own experience, we may have to do it again.

I am also keenly aware that rejecting Kavanaugh on the record currently before the Senate will set a dangerous precedent. If we believe one woman as a credible narrator of her own experience, we may have to do it again. We are on a dangerous road, and the judicial confirmation wars are going to get a lot worse for our traveling down it. (A dangerous road not unlike like the path that children travel to reach my cottage, blindly enchanted by its candied exterior, only to be eaten by me.)

Despite all of this, if I were a senator, I would vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. I find Christine Blasey Ford’s account more believable than his. But perhaps more importantly, Kavanaugh revealed in his testimony a kind of partisanship and conspiracy-mindedness that, because of my preference for politeness and institutional norms that sustain unequal systems, I believe he should have concealed from the public and only later revealed through deeply partisan judicial rulings that favor the powerful over the marginalized over the course of a lifetime appointment.

Consider the judicial function as described by Kavanaugh himself at his first hearing. During his confirmation hearing, Brett Kavanaugh described a “good judge [as] an umpire—a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy.” This squared entirely with the man I have known very well for 20 years, through his role in the Starr investigation, his time as counsel under the George W. Bush administration, his membership with the Federalist Society, and more than a decade of conservative rulings issued from the federal bench. Never once in those 20 years did Kavanaugh reveal any kind of partisan inclination to me whatsoever. His politics were, in fact, so inscrutable—so neutral on their face—that I had long assumed he voted for Jill Stein in both 2012 and 2016. (For his birthday in 2015, I gave him a “No Chill Jill” mug.)

All of which is to say that you can imagine my surprise when, before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the nation, Kavanaugh seemed very partisan. Can anyone seriously entertain the notion that a reasonable pro-choice woman would feel like her position could get a fair shake before a Justice Kavanaugh? There is no doubt in my mind that before his testimony during the Ford hearing they could feel confident in Kavanaugh’s impartiality. Now, it brings me no pleasure to say, they should feel no such confidence. The world has turned topsy-turvy, indeed.

Over the weekend, I listened to a number of podcasts in which liberals mocked Kavanaugh as an entitled white male refusing to face accountability for what he had done. I find the tone of these discussions nauseating. (Also, why are they not listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s delightfully irreverent history podcast instead?) I also spent a lot of time this weekend, when not listening to liberal podcasts that disappoint me, thinking about Oliver Cromwell’s famous letter to the Church of Scotland in which he implored, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

We are in a political environment in which norms no longer matter, and the shallow appearances that once held together the fiction of judicial impartiality have now fallen away. This is a terrible loss.

Still, as much as I admire Kavanaugh, and he is indeed on a Twitter list I have titled “Men I very much admire,” my conscience, nor my bowels, would not permit me to vote for him.

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