The Senate should elevate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. Thursday’s hearing was at times compelling, at times emotional, and at times frustrating. At no point, however, was it transformational. When the day started, there was no corroborating evidence behind any of the charges leveled against Kavanaugh. That remains the case now.
Although she was subject to only the lightest cross-examination, Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, acquitted herself well. Indeed, as Kavanaugh himself acknowledged, it seems entirely possible that at some point in her life, Ford was sexually assaulted. That is a terrible thing. Nevertheless, the charge that Kavanaugh was responsible for the attack remains extremely weak — even non-existent. Every single named witness has either rejected Ford’s story outright or testified that he or she has no memory of it. One of those witnesses, a lifetime friend of Ford’s, not only affirmed she had never attended a party with Kavanaugh — with or without Ford — but that she did not in fact know him at all. And, as Ford herself acknowledged, there are serious gaps in her account.
That Kavanaugh believes himself to be wholly innocent was clear from his extraordinary opening statement. Rarely in American life has any figure pushed back so indignantly or professed his innocence with more vehemence. His reputation, Kavanaugh insisted, had been “totally and permanently destroyed,” his life made a living “hell.” Echoing Clarence Thomas in 1991, Kavanaugh described the last ten days as a “circus” and repeated on more than one occasion that he had wanted to appear at a hearing from the moment the charges had been presented. Frequently, he broke down into tears.
After Kavanaugh had made his plea, the senators on the Democratic side of the aisle were noticeably muted. Perhaps the vagueness of the charges they had been asked to consider had made their jobs effectively impossible. Perhaps they had been shocked by the intensity of the accused’s protestations. Either way, the ten members of the minority descended swiftly into repetition — and, at times, into farce. One after another they asked Kavanaugh to ask for an FBI investigation into himself, no doubt so that they could tell the world that he was under such an investigation and delay his vote as long as possible. And, when that failed, they resorted to litigating his high-school yearbook or to making insinuations about his drinking. Unusually for a nominee, Kavanaugh was aggressive in his rebuttals, demanding that he be allowed to finish his answers, expressing his frustration with the gamesmanship, and at times asking derisive questions back at the senators.
Kavanaugh said repeatedly that his reputation and career must not be laid waste by an accusation that he denied and for which there is no independent evidence. The larger principle here is that it would be a disaster for American democracy — and American culture more generally — if mere charges were deemed sufficient to cast widely respected figures to the curb. At various points during this saga it has been suggested that, irrespective of their veracity, the allegations against Kavanaugh could “cast a shadow on the Court.” If permitted to stand, this view would bring untold peril to our public life. “I have accused you,” any opponent would be able to say, “and that fact renders you ineligible for this position.”
Two weeks ago, what we knew of Judge Kavanaugh suggested that he is a man of immense talent, impeccable temperament, and excellent character. Nothing that has happened in the intervening days, certainly not Kavanaugh’s warranted anger today, has altered our view. “Judge” and “Defendant” are two wholly discrete roles, which is why judges recuse themselves when their personal affairs and those of the court intersect. In support of his innocence, Judge Kavanaugh has today’s testimony, and the reams of information provided over the last two weeks. In support of his suitability for the role for which he has been proposed, he has his life’s work. The Senate should confirm him — and without delay.