Brett Kavanaugh touted his unanimous “well-qualified” rating from the American Bar Association to sit on the Supreme Court. The federal appeals court judge did so at the extraordinary hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, the senators listening to the riveting and dueling accounts of Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. She quietly and steadily told her story about how Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers more than three decades ago.
The bar association reference was part of the judge’s angry and defiant defense. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Kavanaugh’s most ardent backers, described the bar rating as the “gold standard.”
On Thursday evening, the bar called on the committee to halt the confirmation process until a proper FBI investigation into the allegations can be conducted. (Two other women also have come forward.) By Friday afternoon, Republicans had advanced the nomination to the Senate floor. At the same time, one Republican committee member, Jeff Flake of Arizona, responsibly met the moment. He called for an FBI investigation before a floor vote. Thus, there now is time to salvage a process that already has diminished the chamber, “disgrace” and “circus” fitting descriptions.
Graham, in a defining tirade, accused the Democratic minority of orchestrating a power grab. Democrats have played partisan games with judicial nominations in the past. In this case, Graham really was talking about his own party. This goes back to shutting the door on the highly qualified Merrick Garland. It includes taking the next step and eliminating the option of a filibuster for Supreme Court confirmations.
Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell and including Rob Portman of Ohio, have traveled a path that ensures such partisan fighting will infect more deeply the confirmation process at high cost to the court and the country.
Up to this point, Republicans haven’t appeared interested in the truth. As the bar association request reinforced, the appearances of Ford and Kavanaugh argue for learning more about what happened. That requires taking seriously the allegations, seeing they are examined independently, with care and thoroughness, or what the FBI can achieve relatively soon.
The need for an investigation stems from more than the credible testimony of Ford. Kavanaugh earlier had invited concerns about his credibility. They have gotten worse. His answers about his drinking in high school ran counter to the recall of classmates as recently reported. He championed attorney and witness statements without their full context. If his anger was understandable, it provided inadequate cover for what he would not address, whether he supported the FBI reopening the background check.
That anger also had an unsettling quality. The judge became an aggressive partisan, lashing into the Democrats, even suggesting an effort to gain revenge for the Clinton impeachment. He proved impertinent, even belligerent at times, in responding to Democratic senators. It even became reasonable to wonder: Would he be fair as a justice?
In 1991, Clarence Thomas was furious. He didn’t cross the partisan line as Brett Kavanaugh did. Doubts about the judge’s truthfulness? They have been joined by concerns about his temperament.