Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a conservative who has flourished in institutions dominated by liberals. Over the course of a long legal career, he has cultivated cordial relationships with a number of prominent liberal legal academics and lawyers, some of whom spoke on his behalf after he was nominated to the Supreme Court. Since Christine Blasey Ford came forward to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault, many of these erstwhile allies have pulled back, presumably out of a sense that he wasn’t the man they thought they knew or, more cynically, because they concluded that continuing to defend him would be a bad career move, or some combination of the two. But even before then, it was clear that something had changed.
There is no question that the sexual-assault allegations against Kavanaugh have had a profound impact on how he is being perceived by his peers. Across the political spectrum, some have concluded that the claims are credible and disqualifying. It is also true, however, that the elite legal left’s tolerance for the elite legal right has diminished in recent years. Faculty and students at many elite law schools made it clear, long before the allegations came to light, that they found Kavanaugh's views and arguments disqualifying—not evidence of reasoned disagreement, but rather, of an illegitimate and immoral agenda. Those on the faculty who had routinely encouraged their prize pupils to apply to serve as clerks in Kavanaugh’s chambers were attacked for the advice they’d given, leaving at least some professors with the sense that their off-the-cuff remarks would henceforth be subject to intense political scrutiny. What we are witnessing is not just a fierce confirmation battle but an ideological and cultural phase shift. The modus vivendi that has allowed conservatives like Kavanaugh to build their social and cultural capital in liberal institutions is coming undone.