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Law & the Courts

Brett Kavanaugh’s Post-Confirmation Life

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh (Doug Mills/Reuters Pool)

There was a long write-up yesterday in the Washington Post about Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s life in Washington after his contentious confirmation hearing.

His life sounds nice. He is a member at Chevy Chase Club. He rents a vacation house in Rehoboth Beach, Del. He volunteers at homeless shelters, and attends weekly Mass with his family.

“He’s still a Supreme Court justice,” one interviewee quipped.

But life is not the same for Brett Kavanaugh after the hearings — how could it be? In some Washington circles, the Post reports, Kavanaugh is a “persona non grata.” Many women “refuse to be in the same room as Kavanaugh, much less at the same dinner table.” He has been excluded from the general attitude of “deference . . . enjoyed by most of the justices in the nation’s capital.”

Small price to pay? The Post piece seems to think so. Throughout, it tacitly scoffs at the notion that Brett Kavanaugh’s life has been “ruined.” And in fairness, it has not: Reclining at ritzy country clubs in suburban Maryland does not a ruined life make. But what torture must it be for a man — stipulating his innocence — to have his reputation besmirched before the entire country, and to be rendered a pariah in his local community? Yes, worse things are happening in the world. Brett Kavanaugh will survive. But pockets of the nation think he is a predator. That can’t be easy.

Which leads me to an essay that City Journal ran yesterday by the pseudonymous Theodore Dalrymple reflecting on the Kavanaugh–Ford controversy. Dalrymple writes:

So what, if any, are the lessons of this sordid—if, for an outsider, salaciously absorbing—business? First, that we live in curious times, in which unbridled licentiousness and fanatical censoriousness coexist in a dialectical relationship of what one might call hostile dependence. Second, it has revealed to what extent we now think tribally, confirmation bias being our main method of reaching conclusions. Third, that if we continue down the path that the Kavanaugh hearings opened up, it will not be the unexamined life alone that will not be worth living, but the examined one, also.

He writes further about the impulse “to believe the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford ex officio” — an impulse not far removed from Mazie Hirono’s insistence that the nation’s men “shut up and step up” — and wonders, rightly, about what such impulses say of our culture. The hearings, he said, revealed an “alarming number of Mesdames Defarges doing their knitting at the base of the scaffold,” who delighted at the specter of the hearing, playing their part in a great “gladiatorial soap opera” of American sexual politics.

But even if it works as a rhetorical device, treating Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing as a “gladiatorial soap opera” overlooks the fact that it was not a soap opera. It involved two real people, both of whom have families and reputations, and, as this piece in the Post demonstrates, have to actually exist in a world where accusations of sexual misconduct levied by and against them matter a great deal.

If only the Mesdames Defarges would put their knitting needles down for a moment.

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