The Cruelty of Brett Kavanaugh
Kavanaugh “reminded senators that he has no concern for people outside his rarefied social circle.”
Bangor Daily News, October 2, 2018
On September 27, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee to address Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s credible sexual assault allegations against him. Since that hearing, much of the focus has been on Kavanaugh’s blatant lies. But Kavanaugh’s performance also laid bare what many had already known: Brett Kavanaugh acts cruelly toward those outside of his elite circle of friends and colleagues. In fact, Kavanaugh’s lack of empathy appears to extend to anyone without a country club membership. It is a central character trait – he has repeatedly demonstrated, throughout his life, a callousness that has no place on our highest court.
The public continues to learn the truth about how Kavanaugh treated women in high school and college. We should believe survivors, and the credible allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh are heinous and disqualifying. They are even more appalling when coupled with Kavanaugh’s unbelievable testimony before the Judiciary Committee, where he told laughable lies about his drinking and treatment of women (is there a credible Republican anywhere willing to defend Kavanaugh’s “Renate Alumnius” shtick?). He has also gaslit those who knew him, claiming the “aggressive” and “belligerent” drinker never existed. Dr. Blasey Ford, Debbie Ramirez, and many, many others clearly remember the real Brett Kavanaugh from those years.
But this cruelty did not dissipate as he aged out of school. Early in his legal career, as a protégé of Ken Starr, Kavanaugh was responsible for re-investigating the suicide of Vince Foster. There he proved his worth as a Republican operative willing to exploit a man’s suicide for partisan gain. As Paul Begala, Foster’s former colleague, said of Kavanaugh’s “investigation”:
That was investigated by the park police, by the first special counsel, Robert Fisk, by the Senate, by the House, by the Secret Service. All said the obvious, the poor man took his own life. [Kavanaugh] reopened it. Spent millions of dollars and tormented the Foster family in the most vicious, cruel abuse of power I think I’ve seen in 30 years, and he should be held for account for it.
Kavanaugh’s work as a loyal partisan was rewarded when he was given plum positions in the George W. Bush Administration and when he was nominated to the D.C. Circuit. Kavanaugh’s defenders have noted his courtesy toward other judges and attorneys during his time on the bench. While professional courtesy is to be expected, it does not make up for the decisions Kavanaugh makes as a judge that have real-world and damaging consequences for hundreds of millions of people. It is a fact that while on the bench, he has issued ruling after ruling distinguished by a conspicuous absence of compassion, or even understanding, of the people impacted by his decisions.
This aspect of Kavanaugh’s decisions was on full display during Garza v. Hargan, commonly known as “the Jane Doe case,” when Kavanaugh was overruled by the D.C. Circuit after blocking an immigrant teenager in government custody from accessing abortion care for which she had already been granted legal permission by the state of Texas. As Dahlia Lithwick wrote, “if we have learned anything from this process, it is that [Kavanaugh] has shown himself time and again to be someone who doesn’t have a good deal of empathy or solicitude for the women not in his immediate orbit. During the hearings, the striking manifestation of this was his cavalier attitude toward Jane Doe[.]” Had Kavanaugh been successful, Jane Doe would have had to remain pregnant while being detained, with all the accompanying health risks that involved. Yet nowhere in his opinion does Kavanaugh express any concern or sympathy for Jane Doe.
When a killer whale mauled a SeaWorld trainer, Dawn Brancheau, to death, the autopsy showed that the trainer died of “trauma to the head, neck and torso, and drowning” and “part of her scalp was ‘forcibly torn from the head.’” OSHA fined Seaworld $75,000 for safety violations in response. Kavanaugh sought to overturn the fine, claiming the OSHA fine was just “paternalis[m].” His dissent can’t fathom that Dawn Brancheau might choose to both enter a dangerous profession and be entitled to measures to protect her safety.
Hovering over all of this is the specter of what Kavanaugh could do on a grand scale, if given the chance, to cause pain for millions of ordinary Americans. The Affordable Care Act is legislation that likely does not make a life-or-death difference for those in his social set, but does save lives for those less advantaged. His dissent in a case that his former clerk admitted was a “roadmap” to overturning the law makes it clear that he would move to gut it.
And there’s more: his brusque dismissal of Fred Guttenberg, the father of a student murdered at Parkland. His shocking insensitivity in asking Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the daughter of an alcoholic, if she ever blacked out from drinking. His rage at being publicly called to account for attacking a younger and more vulnerable teenager, and his inability to understand why his privilege was not continuing to protect him. His entire tantrum before the Senate was a revealing and chilling display from someone who plainly expected to be handed a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court.
Why would someone act this way? Why would someone go out of their way to risk the health of a pregnant teenager? Why would he turn away from a grieving father? Why ignore Supreme Court precedent to hurt workers, immigrants, and the environment? Why try to take away health insurance from millions? When it comes to his courtroom decisions, Kavanaugh has insisted that the law required him to rule as he did. But again and again, he was overruled because the law explicitly did not require his desired outcomes. Kavanaugh acts, and rules, as he does because he cannot put himself in the shoes of Americans who don’t get to attend Georgetown Prep and Yale, or who are in any way more vulnerable than he. He never could.