The forced confirmation of a conservative nominee who will tip the court much further to the right has outraged large swaths of the country
The stain will be indelible. Brett Kavanaugh’s tenure on the US supreme court will always be tainted by the highly partisan and morally bankrupt process that forced through his US Senate confirmation.
The outcome was never really in doubt. Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell were determined to win from the first mention of Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s name. Her serious allegations of sexual misconduct against Judge Kavanaugh, which had convincing corroboration, including a second woman accuser, Deborah Ramirez, were never fully considered. Dr Ford did get to testify, but the hearing was stacked against her before it started. It was designed to end in a he said/she said stalemate. The FBI investigation was a joke. Dr Ford was demeaned not only by President Trump, who mocked her at a Mississippi rally, but by the entire confirmation process.
Republicans paid lip service to the need to “listen and hear from her”, but outsourced her questioning to a female sex crimes prosecutor who predictably concluded that Dr Ford’s charges were unproven.
The hasty swearing-in of Justice Kavanaugh on Saturday was another heavy-handed partisan move destined to inflame the bitterness created by a corrupt confirmation process. The angry crowds massed outside the US supreme court and the Capitol after the vote, the closest ever for a successful supreme court nominee, reflected a national outrage that is building. President Trump and the Republicans may brag that the Kavanaugh fight has motivated the Republican base for the midterm elections, but that effect will be short-term and fleeting. The forced confirmation of a conservative nominee who will tip the court much further to the right has outraged large swaths of the country, not only in coastal urban areas but among suburban women in red states, too. The backlash will build, becoming an important political force for the 2020 presidential campaign.
There were many low moments in the past week. In the flush of victory, President Trump actually had the nerve to praise the FBI, an agency he has lambasted, for its whitewash of Judge Kavanaugh.
Susan Collins’ grandstanding speech before announcing her yes vote suggested that Dr Ford was herself grandstanding by choosing to testify publicly, rather than in private in California. Her vote for Kavanaugh was never really in doubt, anyway.
Jeff Flake’s elevator conversion was another piece of Kabuki theater. He was momentarily cowed by the gutsy women who confronted him, but he, too, was always inclined to support Kavanaugh. After calling, belatedly, for an FBI investigation, he did nothing to ensure that it was either thorough or fair.
The confirmation process reeked of hypocrisy from the start. After blocking Merrick Garland, a moderate who President Obama chose, the Republicans had the nerve to claim the Democrats were the partisan ones, orchestrating a last-minute hit job on their nominee. There is not a scintilla of evidence that Dr Ford had any partisan motive.
At first, President Trump seemed genuinely rattled by Dr Ford’s accusations and kept a careful distance from his nominee. White House lawyers, too, were worried after Dr Ford’s credible testimony, but Judge Kavanaugh’s emotional and outraged denial reassured them, as did overnight polling. Within hours the president was unshackled, making fun of Dr Ford’s memory lapses, which were actually a sign of her honesty.
The confirmation vote was the final triumph of Donald McGahn, the White House counsel whose singular mission has been getting rightwing judges confirmed. But his legacy will also be stained by the rank brutality of this confirmation process. Mr McGahn learned hardball, partisan politics when he represented the Koch brothers.
The Kavanaugh nomination should have been pulled right after his histrionic testimony, so filled with baseless claims of victimhood. His outrageous performance put on display a temperament completely at odds with anything remotely judicial. After wildly claiming the Democrats were seeking revenge on behalf of the Clintons, how can anyone seriously think he can fairly decide any political cases that come before the court? His palpable anger made a mockery of his own earlier speech insisting that judges should always be impartial umpires.
Once again, Washington has proven to be an indecent place.
There were few silver linings, such as when thoughtful politicians, like Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, did decide to oppose Kavanaugh. The real moment for reconsideration should have come when former Justice John Paul Stevens, 98, in highly unusual remarks, said that Judge Kavanaugh’s openly expressed prejudices should disqualify him from serving on the court. It was extraordinary for a former justice to speak out against a nominee for the supreme court, but Steven’s rebuke barely registered in the partisan din.
The Kavanaugh confirmation process was worse in some ways than Clarence Thomas’s and the bitter legacy will be similar. Then, as now, conservatives were motivated to support their embattled nominee. The political passions of the moment favored Thomas’s confirmation. But a year later, public opinion had sharply turned and it was the fury of women that was felt at the ballot box in 1992.
It is beyond sad that the United States now has two justices sitting under the cloud of perjury and sexual misconduct. While the supreme court was once seen as standing above politics, it, too, is now justifiably seen as partisan. How can it not, when President Trump picks his nominees from pre-approved lists blessed by the conservative Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation?
It should not really surprise anyone that Washington proved to be immune to the #MeToo movement or that the White House and Senate so callously dismissed Dr Ford. Republicans play to win by exerting brute power. They have a new hero in Brett Kavanaugh.
Jill Abramson is a Guardian US columnist