Shut the Hell Up About Brett Kavanaugh Being a Nice Guy
Supreme Court nominations aren't about personality. They're about ideology and power.
Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP
When Donald Trump nominated DC Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, it set the man on a path toward melding, Voltron-like, with the four sitting right-wing justices to form a majority that could have a profound impact on the country. But the nomination also kicked off a news cycle as banal and insider-y as anything this side of the White House Correspondents Dinner, a bizarre discourse that's not about Kavanaugh's likely impact but on his bland-as-milk personal life.
Kavanaugh was a great "carpool dad," reported his neighbor in a much-mocked Washington Post op-ed. One of his old law professors wrote in the New York Times that Kavanaugh "is an avid consumer of legal scholarship. He reads and learns. And he reads scholars from across the political spectrum." (That article was headlined, trollishly, "A Liberal's Case for Brett Kavanaugh.") Amy Chua, the Yale law professor of Tiger Mom fame whose daughter was set to clerk for Kavanaugh, praised him as a mentor, especially to women, in the Wall Street Journal. She also said he "actively seeks out clerks from across the ideological spectrum who will question and disagree with him. He wants to hear other perspectives before deciding a case. Above all, he believes in the law and wants to figure out, without prejudging, what it requires."
I have not had the good fortune to bask in Kavanaugh's presence, probably because I've never been anywhere near the elite law circles he so gracefully glides through. Most of us have not breathed the same air as any Supreme Court justice—all of them are Harvard or Yale graduates, and though not all of them grew up privileged, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh went to the same tony prep school. But Kavanaugh is probably a nice man. For all I know he has the pure heart of a golden retriever and the sharp judicial mind of Owl from Winnie the Pooh. And hey, at a time when the president is a sleazebag presiding over a casually corrupt administration, we should welcome people of good character holding positions of power.
But Kavanaugh's legacy as a justice will not be defined by his personal kindness. He is likely to be hostile to abortion rights, even if he doesn't represent the final vote to overturn Roe v. Wade (and he probably does). He's extremely pro-gun and anti-regulation. And he joins an insanely aggressive Court that in the past decade has decided that the Constitution includes a personal right to own guns, allows unlimited corporate money in politics, and invalidates key elements of the Voting Rights Act. The Court already systematically favors businesses over workers and in the last session crippled public-sector unions, made it more difficult for employees to sue employers for wage theft, declined to strike down Trump's travel ban, and declared that an Ohio purge of voter rolls was constitutional.
Rulings like those—that favor right-wing causes at the expense of many millions of marginalized people who didn't go to elite schools—are likely to continue and become more dangerous in years to come. No one will remember how sweet of a neighbor Kavanaugh if abortion is illegal in 30 states and unions are on the cusp of disappearance.
Yes, Kavanaugh is a qualified judge, but that's hardly a surprise given the right-wing group the Federalist Society basically compiled a list of qualified judges for Trump to pick from. Even this president can't fuck up a decision that comes down to pointing at a name someone else has written out for him. That low bar added an element of comedy to everyone on the Republican side of the aisle, not just pro-Trumpers, celebrating the pick—you couldn't help but feel it was on par with a pet owner praising a dog for not shitting in the house.
For conservatives, Trump's selection of Kavanaugh is worth celebrating, of course, because it moves them closer to many of their long-held goals and could help maintain their grip on power for another generation. Liberals, meanwhile, will have to live with it—as Barack Obama famously said, "elections have consequences," and a consequence of Trump's victory, Russian hacking notwithstanding, is that he gets to stock the Supreme Court.
But there's no reason for anyone outside the conservative movement to get all misty-eyed about how Kavanaugh's smile lights up a room. In 2016, Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a judge who by all accounts was just as true-hearted and qualified. Senate Republicans blocked the shit out of him, refusing even to hold hearings on his nomination in an unprecedented act of obstruction. The Supreme Court is not about virtue, it's about power. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to get a clerkship for their daughter.
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