The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Kavanaugh Pick: Lamenting an Opportunity Lost

President Trump with Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at the White House, July 9, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

I’ve got a piece up over at the Washington Post about the Brett Kavanaugh nomination. It was a safe choice — and an opportunity lost. There was a choice out there that fired the conservative imagination, the kind of choice that arguably only a Donald Trump would have the guts to make:

There was a moment, in the early afternoon of July 9, when conservatives contemplated the delightful possibility that they might witness the best possible version of President Trump — the man with the will (and flair for the dramatic) that would allow him to be bolder than the average Republican president. The best version of Trump would have been nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Would another Republican have the guts to put forward a nominee who would so clearly inflame the culture wars? Would another Republican president shatter the GOP nominee mold by selecting a mother of seven kids, an outspoken Christian and a graduate from a “normal” non-Ivy League law school? The base-motivating, electrifying pick was right there, in the palm of his hand.

Then, he went establishment. He chose a man that any Republican president would have nominated. He made the best safe choice he could: Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

This does not mean that Kavanaugh will be a bad justice. Over time, I think he’ll prove to be a solid (and perhaps even excellent) pick. And, over the next several weeks, we’ll see an avalanche of progressive attacks, many of them labeling even his best and most rigorous opinions “extremist” or “dangerous.” Kavanaugh will be an easy pick to defend. But it’s simply a fact that tonight my inbox is lighting up with responses — many of them from Trump supporters — expressing a sense of regret.

And to those saying, “Relax, it will be her next time,” we should remember all the passed-over judges who never, ever saw that “next time.” There’s zero guarantee that Trump will get another SCOTUS pick. We don’t know of any justices pondering retirement, and nobody should be ghoulish enough to predict any justice’s demise. Don’t for a moment think Ruth Bader Ginsburg will step down under President Trump. So, until proven otherwise, I stand by my assessment.

One final note: You wouldn’t believe how often conservative professionals ask my advice about how “open” to be on their CV’s, in their social media, and online about their conservative religious affiliations. Ever since Brendan Eich, there’s a palpable sense that there’s a stained-glass ceiling descending on certain professions (including law) restricting the upward mobility of orthodox Christians. Barrett’s nomination wouldn’t “just” have put an outstanding originalist on the Court for 30 years, it would have helped blunt the force of secular bigotry. The direct confrontation between an angry secular Left and an accomplished, poised Christian professional would have represented a culturally important moment.

But alas, it was not to be. Kavanaugh will be an excellent judge. In a more functional political system, he’d win confirmation by an overwhelming majority and not the slim margin he’ll likely receive. I’ll defend him vigorously from unfair critiques tomorrow, but tonight I join many conservatives in a slight sigh of regret. There was a better choice.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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