• Ryan O'Connell

The Kavanaugh Hearings: The Sound and The Fury

October 1, 2018

We should all be worried about the future of our democracy, however the battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination turns out. The Senate, formerly “the greatest deliberative body in the world”, has become a “circus”, to use Kavanaugh’s own harsh phrase, with extraordinary displays of anger and vicious attacks among its members.

However, this depressing state of affairs has arisen mostly because of aggressive tactics by the Republicans. There has been plenty of grandstanding and deplorable theatrics on the Democratic side, to be sure, but it’s important to remember that Republicans fanned the flames for this bonfire.

To put this in context: Democratic Senators opposed the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, a respected but very conservative judge. However, they did not attack Gorsuch’s character or delve deeply into his personal background, even though they were still outraged by Mitch McConnell’s refusal to let President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland move forward.

Donald Trump then upped the ante by nominating Kavanaugh, who had both impressive credentials but also the reputation of being a highly partisan Republican. This was poking Democrats in the eye, as even Mitch McConnell recognized; the Republican leader was not enthusiastic about Kavanaugh’s nomination. Kavanaugh has more baggage than Gorsuch did. (Ironically, in Kavanaugh’s tirade last week, when he accused his opponents of “orchestrating a hit” and seeking “revenge on behalf of the Clintons”, he showed how profoundly partisan he is.)

Furthermore, the Republicans have abused their power during this nomination process, trying to rush the proceedings so they can confirm Kavanaugh before the midterm elections. The Senate has a duty to vet candidates for the Supreme Court with great care, since these are appointments for life. If Senators fail to do that, it’s a disservice to the Court, our legal system and our country.

Instead, Republican Senators have taken high-handed steps that were guaranteed to anger Democrats. They refused to release documents that Kavanaugh wrote as a lawyer for the George W. Bush Administration… and then they dumped vast quantities of those materials on committee members just a day before the hearings were to begin. The Republicans simply have not followed fair procedures that would allow Democratic Senators to review Kavanaugh’s record and prepare for the hearings.

Still, there’s probably some merit in Republicans’ assertions that certain Democrats were looking for a way, any way, to prevent Kavanaugh from being confirmed, because he was so objectionable to them. You can understand why many Republicans feel that some Democratic Senators are acting in bad faith and seizing on decades-old allegations that Kavanaugh mistreated women to derail his candidacy. Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) once again crossed the line from eloquence to showboating, as he pontificated about general trends in sexual assaults against women. At times Sen. Booker seemed to be testing a Presidential campaign speech, rather than addressing the specifics of Kavanaugh’s situation.

Sen. Booker also claimed, incorrectly, that Kavanaugh had said that presidents should be “immune” from any legal proceedings. Kavanaugh has suggested that presidents should not be subject to civil or criminal lawsuits while in office, but that’s not an unusual view among legal scholars. Instead, Kavanaugh has said, impeachment proceedings are the appropriate way to address presidential abuses of power.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) did not cover herself with glory, either. She asked Kavanaugh a series of “gotcha questions”. She repeatedly cut Kavanaugh off when he tried to provide some nuance in his answers. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal) has remained dignified and polite during the hearings, but it’s a fair question to ask why she did not raise the allegations of sexual misconduct earlier.

And yet…the Democrats have been right to insist that the Senate hear Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Judge Kavanaugh. They are right to demand that the FBI interview the witnesses to other alleged incidents involving Judge Kavanaugh, such as his Yale classmate Debbie Ramirez. These allegations raise important factual questions, as well as possible issues regarding Kavanaugh’s temperament and integrity, and they should be fully investigated.

Senators are entitled to hold different views on whether or not mistreatment of women over three decades ago, if proved, should bar Kavanaugh from serving on the Supreme Court. But there should not be any debate about a candidate’s honesty and integrity.

By all accounts, Dr. Ford was a highly credible witness. The Senate has a duty to determine, as best as possible, whether she or Judge Kavanaugh testified honestly during the hearings. This is particularly important because Kavanaugh has appeared evasive at times, as when he ducked a direct question from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Cal) on whether he had discussed the Russian investigation with lawyers at a specific law firm.

One of the saddest casualties of this civil war in the Senate is Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). The Senator used to be a voice of reason and moderation, but he has lately adopted Trump-like rhetoric. Last week Sen. Graham lashed out at his Democratic colleagues, saying, “My God, you want power. I hope you never get it.”

Sen. Graham is presumably not advocating a one-party state in America. But he has turned the situation upside down. The Democrats are doing their duty, carrying out the Senate’s mandate to vet Supreme Court candidates carefully. Republican Senators should join in that effort, rather than demonizing their colleagues. They can leave that to President Trump.

The Wall Street Democrat

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