On the first day of his Senate confirmation hearings to join the Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh stood in front of a row of network cameras and declined to shake hands with Fred Guttenberg, the father of a student killed in the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year.
On Wednesday, he was asked how he’d respond to someone like Guttenberg. And his answer was specific — just not about the question he was asked.
Kavanaugh’s rambling response began with an acknowledgement that Supreme Court decisions have “real-life consequences,” then bizarrely proceeded into a discourse about how well he understands the plight of the homeless.
Kavanaugh had taken heat in the press for his refusal to take Guttenberg’s outstretched hand during the lunch break Tuesday in an incident caught on video and circulated widely.
On Wednesday, Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, tried to let Kavanaugh reclaim the moment, asking whether Kavanaugh might want to address the issue or take a moment to speak to others in the audience at the hearings in the Capitol.
“I want to give you a chance to say some things to the people who’ve attended this hearing,” Graham said. “I think there’s the father of a Parkland student who was killed. I think there’s a mother of a child who’s got terrible healthcare problems. And there are many other people here with personal situations. What would you like to say to them, if anything, about your job as a Supreme Court Justice?”
Kavanaugh said that while his first duty was impartially interpreting the law, he also had to be mindful of how his decisions might impact people’s lives.
“Senator, I understand the real-world effects of our decisions,” he said. “I want to reassure everyone that I base my decisions on the law, but I do so with an awareness of the facts, and an awareness of the real-world consequences. And I have not lived in a bubble. And I understand how passionately people feel about particular issues. And I understand how personally people are affected by issues.”
Then he pivoted to a long meditation on homelessness, a subject he said he’s gained insight into after volunteering to serve meals at a Catholic charity in Washington D.C. It was his most detailed and specific statement in the hearing so far.
“I understand the difficulties people have in america,” he said. “I understand the situation of homeless people, because I see them on a regular basis when I’m serving homeless people.”
He then quoted some Bible verses about service, and Graham asked a softball question about the difference between Kavanaugh the man, and the judge. But Kavanaugh breezed past the question and continued to talk about the homeless.
“Every person you serve a meal to is just as good as me, or better, frankly, because of what they’ve had to go through on a daily basis just to get that meal,” Kavanaugh said. “I don’t want to sound better than someone, in describing them… We’re all part of one community.”
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday evening, Guttenberg said he’d approached Kavanaugh because he’d wanted to appeal to him as “a dad.”
“I simply said, ‘Hi, my name is Fred Guttenberg, I'm the father of Jaime Guttenberg, who was murdered in Parkland,’” Guttenberg said. “As soon as I got to the ‘murdered in Parkland,’ that’s when you saw him turn and move and walk the other way.”
Guttenberg said he was concerned about how Kavanaugh might rule on issues of gun control, provided he’s approved by the slim Republican majority in the Senate and takes a seat on the Supreme Court.
“I don’t go home to my complete family anymore — my daughter was killed — and I am really concerned about how he is going to rule on certain things that matter a lot to me,” Guttenberg told CNN. “Because I don't want to see other families go through what we've gone through.”
Cover image: Fred Guttenberg (L), father of murdered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Jamie Guttenberg, tries to shake the hand of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh as Kavanaugh appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.