It’s been a year since the country watched in what felt like slow motion as Brett Kavanaugh sputtered that he liked beer roughly 30 times, bemoaned the fact that his confirmation process to the Supreme Court had become "a national disgrace,” and attempted to defend himself against allegations that he sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when they were in high school (which he denied). Following Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27th, 2018, citizens expressed outrage that Kavanaugh would, devastatingly, be confirmed to the court. A photo of her, eyes closed, hand up as she testified, became a sobering visual representation of how shrinking our process on sexual misconduct remains. #WhyIDidntReport trended on social media as a result, and Kavanaugh was confirmed, 51 to 49, to the Supreme Court on October 6th, 2018.
Since then, Kavanaugh appeared to have been laying low, with even conservatives waiting to see whether he served the purpose they hoped he would (tipping the scales of justice decidedly in their favor). But on September 14th, 2019, New York Times reporters (and authors of the upcoming book The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation) Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly published an excerpt from the book reporting that Kavanaugh pulled his pants down and "thrust his penis at" a woman named Deborah Ramirez when he was a freshman in college. It’s an additional accusation that the reporters claim can be even more fully corroborated than Blasey Ford’s. “During his Senate testimony, Mr. Kavanaugh said that if the incident Ms. Ramirez described had occurred, it would have been 'the talk of campus,'" their piece explains. “Our reporting suggests that it was.”
Among the most damning parts of the new allegation is that a source and former classmate says he saw the incident happen, notified the Senate and F.B.I., and that the F.B.I. did not investigate. It’s an eerie moment of revisitation in American politics: Kavanaugh is back in headlines, for the same type of misconduct that led women to protest his confirmation; the same type of misconduct that a majority of Senators decided was unimportant when they ultimately confirmed him.
Now, Democrats Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, and Julián Castro are among the 2020 Presidential candidates who have called for Kavanaugh to be impeached. Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii is among the Senators also speaking out, tweeting Sunday, “it was plain to me and many others at the time that the FBI ‘investigation’ into the serious, corroborated allegations of sexual assault by Justice Kavanaugh was a sham."
It’s also nudged other questions about Kavanaugh’s character back into the discourse — like the matter of who paid off his $200,000 in debt.
The Kavanaugh confirmation remains one of the most contested political moments in recent history. In addition to Blasey Ford’s allegations, the American Bar Association announced it would reevaluate Kavanaugh’s standing because of his spectacular display of gross, partisan temperament; the National Council of Churches called for the withdrawal of his nomination; over 2,000 law professors signed a letter encouraging the Senate not to confirm him. So-called “dark money” groups spent millions on advertisements surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination, and as of December 2018, 83 ethics complaints against Kavanaugh were dismissed (which have been appealed and rejected 20 times as recently as spring 2019).
Now, with 2020 looming, it seems we’re back at a starting line, as if Kavanaugh’s original confirmation didn’t have high enough stakes. Democrats, who are still debating impeachment for the president, are calling for Kavanaugh to be impeached, too. Again, women and survivors of sexual assault are left pouring their stories and trauma out on the table, begging elected officials to care enough to not give someone accused of sexual predation a lifetime appointment. Of course, that already happened: He is in a position to actually change the word of law in this country.
As we reel and rally, once again, here’s what Brett Kavanaugh has been up to in the nearly one year since he’s been confirmed.
Kavanaugh has attempted an image shift.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Kavanaugh have voted the same in almost every case that’s come before them, and they have been reportedly more likely to side with the liberal justices than other conservatives on the court. Since his appointment, experts believe he’s positioned himself as more moderate than Trump’s other appointee, Neil Gorsuch.
In three early rulings, including one related to the Trump administration adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, and a second related to the Justice Department’s efforts to stop a significant climate change lawsuit, Kavanaugh centered himself as a somewhat moderate force. Mark Joseph Stern, who covers courts and the law for Slate, surmised that Kavanaugh could be attempting to lay low until harder-hitting cases, like abortion and Obamacare, come into play, giving him time to defuse a bad public reputation.
He wrote an anti-abortion dissent.
Kavanaugh is regarded as anti-abortion. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, he’s only addressed the right to abortion in one case, and they summarized it as such: “It shows that he does not believe that the Constitution’s protection for abortion is meaningful, even under the currently binding precedent of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.”
In February, the Supreme Court opted not to block a Louisiana law that would have shuttered most of the abortion clinics in the state. Kavanaugh dissented, arguing that the law should go into effect, since it wasn’t clear it would be “unduly burdensome” to women. The “unduly burdensome” bit matters: In Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, the Supreme Court ruled that states are allowed to regulate abortion as long as it doesn’t place an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion services.
That he said closing down medical clinics that provide abortion services wouldn't be an undue burden to women seeking abortion care, says Mark Joseph Stern of Slate, “should not be taken as anything less than a declaration of war on Roe v. Wade.” In 2016, a similar Texas law was shut down when the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional. Looks like he's playing the long game here.
He believes an assault weapons ban is unconstitutional, and is likely to vote like it.
In 2008, Kavanaugh called for a “sweeping expansion of the Second Amendment” in response to a District of Columbia emergency law banning assault rifles, which reached the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where he was one of three Republican appointees. According to The New Yorker, in 2011, he wrote a dissent that said the District of Columbia shouldn’t be permitted to ban semi-automatic assault rifles, and that asking individuals to register guns is unconstitutional.
Why does this matter now? Well, the Supreme Court is gearing up to hear the first Second Amendment case since 2010 in October: New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York is a challenge to New York City’s gun licensing. It’s set to be a major indication of how a right-leaning court will handle gun control and the Second Amendment going forward, and Kavanaugh has the votes to make it easier to obtain assault rifles. Given that Kavanaugh has indicated previously he believes an assault weapons ban is unconstitutional, his views on the Second Amendment are about to be a major focus.
Kavanaugh versus Elizabeth Warren could come to pass.
You might have heard of Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is listed in her Twitter bio alongside her children and dog. If not, it’s a financial watchdog agency that helps regulate student loans and mortgages, among other financial products (for example, it provided $12 billion to Americans hurt by “predatory student loans, misleading credit card services”).
The Supreme Court is debating whether to take on a case that rules whether the structure of the CFPB is constitutional, and Kavanaugh has seemingly made his stance on that clear, writing in 2018 that “the CFPB’s departure from historical practice, threat to individual liberty, and diminution of Presidential authority combine to make this an overwhelming case of unconstitutionality.” The Trump admin wants rid of the CFPB because the administration believes it has too much power, and Kavanaugh could be the vote they need to strike it down, while undoing an accomplishment that’s been a cornerstone of Warren’s campaign talking points.