Kavanaugh Goes Nuclear

The Supreme Court nominee furiously attacked Democrats and the Senate confirmation process in his opening statement Thursday.

Saul Loeb / Pool via AP

A furious Brett Kavanaugh denied Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against him and attacked Democrats during his opening statement at Thursday’s Senate hearing, vacillating between shouting and tears as he fought, he said, to save his reputation.

In a defiant statement not seen since Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings in 1991, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee savaged the Senate, and particularly Democrats.

“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” Kavanaugh said, his voice rising. “The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process. But you have replaced ‘advice and consent’ with ‘search and destroy.’”

Kavanaugh first complained about the process prior to Ford’s accusation becoming public. He specifically cited Senator Cory Booker, who said that those who support Kavanaugh are “complicit in evil.” Kavanaugh said Thursday, “A Democratic senator on this committee publicly referred to me as evil. Evil. Think about that word.

“You sowed the wind for decades to come,” Kavanaugh said, describing the initial phases of the process. “The behavior of this committee was an embarrassment. At least it was just a good old-fashioned attempt at Borking.”

But, he said, when that was not enough to stop his nomination, Democrats manufactured “a long series of false, last-minute smears.” Kavanaugh continued:

This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups. This is a circus. The consequences will extend long past my nomination. The consequences will be with us for decades. This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country.

The tone of Kavanaugh’s statement—a direct attack on the senators themselves—had not been heard since Thomas confronted allegations of sexual harassment by Anita Hill 27 years ago. “This is a circus. It is a national disgrace,” Thomas said then. “And from my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I am concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you: You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate, rather than hung from a tree.”

But unlike Thomas, whose mien remained even as he delivered his angry words, Kavanaugh either could not or would not hide his anger. The emotional statement replaced prepared testimony released earlier, and Kavanaugh said he had written it himself and that no one, save a former law clerk, had reviewed it. As I wrote earlier this week, Kavanaugh has taken an unusual role in his own nomination, defending himself with the tools of the political operative he was for many years.

If one is inclined to disbelieve Ford’s accusation, as well as those of two other women who’ve come forward, it is hard to blame Kavanaugh for his anger at the damage done to his reputation. Yet even if one thinks he is innocent, it is difficult to imagine now Kavanaugh serving on the Supreme Court and acting as anything resembling a neutral arbiter. Nonetheless, he said he was not withdrawing.

“You’ve tried hard. You’ve given it your all,” he said. “No one can question your effort, but your coordinated and well-funded effort to destroy my good name and destroy my family will not drive me out. The vile threats of violence against my family will not drive me out. You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit. Never.”

In his demand for a vote, regardless of the outcome, Kavanaugh echoed another conservative jurist of the past, Robert Bork, whom he referenced in his statement. In 1987, with his nomination to the Court doomed, Bork said:

There should be a full debate and a final Senate decision. In deciding on this course, I harbor no illusions. But a crucial principle is at stake. That principle is the way we select the men and women who guard the liberties of all the American people. That should not be done through public campaigns of distortion. If I withdraw now, that campaign would be seen as a success, and it would be mounted against future nominees.  

Kavanaugh’s fate is not so clear. The general consensus was that Thursday’s testimony from Ford was devastating to Kavanaugh’s nomination. Ford appeared credible, nonpolitical, and sincere, and Republicans and conservative commentators were impressed. Her testimony will make it more difficult for fence-sitting senators to support the nomination, but Kavanaugh could still squeak by. The White House might also decide to withdraw the nomination, though Kavanaugh’s defiant statement may have been intended to help plead his case to the president.

Of one thing Kavanaugh is likely right: No matter the outcome, the damage to the Supreme Court will be lasting. During his first hearing in early September, Kavanaugh told senators this:

The Supreme Court must never be viewed as a partisan institution. The justices on the Supreme Court do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle. They do not caucus in separate rooms. If confirmed to the Court, I would be part of a team of nine, committed to deciding cases according to the Constitution and laws of the United States. I would always strive to be a team player on the team of nine.

With his all-out attack on Democrats, the Senate, and the Judiciary Committee, Kavanaugh helped guarantee the Court will look even more partisan, whether he sits on its bench or not.