After a summer of anticipation and agitation, the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh began yesterday. As has been typical for the last several decades, this Supreme Court hearing was even more rancorous than the last. Here’s what we learned from the first day’s events.
1. Protesters Are Clueless
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley called the meeting to order in the morning, but had hardly begun when loyal members of the Trump resistance showed that, as usual, they have no idea of how to behave in public. Reenacting the customs of social media in real life, they screamed, yelled, and stomped their feet even before Grassley and the other senators had a chance to say anything to which they might object.
Their quickness to act gave the game away: these protestors did not object to the content of the hearings, but to the hearings themselves.
It is unclear what they hoped to accomplish, but that is not unheard of among protesters, right or left. Since the 2016 election, opponents of the president and his agenda have excelled at making loud noises and wearing silly costumes, yet once the cosplay elements are stripped away, the concrete steps they demand are maddeningly unclear. Their agitprop, while no doubt gratifying to themselves, will never convert an opponent and might only repel an undecided observer.
Perhaps it is just a sign of the times. For all of the complaints about President Trump’s lack of decorum, the average denizen of the far left has always been less decorous than his counterpart on the right. Should we now expect the loutish manners of social media to bleed into all areas of civic life?
Things may well get worse in this regard before they get better. In any case, about two dozen protesters made enough sound and fury to get themselves removed and arrested. The atmosphere got so heated that Kavanaugh’s children had to be escorted out of the room.
2. Junior Senators Feign Cluelessness
Even before the amateur “loudmouths” (as Sen. Orrin Hatch called them) were removed, the professionals added their voices to the tumult. Scarcely had Grassley uttered a sentence when members of the committee’s Democratic minority began to talk over him.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California demanded that the hearing be adjourned even before anything of substance had been said, citing the large number of documents related to Kavanaugh’s public career that senators had yet to receive. It is not clear how Harris thought those documents, added to the already record-breaking number already produced, would affect her vote.
It’s not as though she was keeping an open mind on the nominee. Harris announced her opposition to Kavanaugh on July 9. For perspective, consider that Kavanaugh’s nomination did not even reach the Senate until July 10. Unless she thought more information might convince her to vote for Kavanaugh, even reading every document Kavanaugh has ever laid eyes on would be a waste of time.
Sens. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) added their voices to Harris’s, as did others, but Grassley ruled them out of order. (Booker and Blumenthal also opposed Kavanaugh from the moment he was nominated.)
To say the objection makes no sense is to take it at face value, when everyone knows it is a farce. Democratic senators, especially those who think they should be president, have a tough task. Unlike the more simple-minded protestors, these senators know they can do nothing to stop a Republican majority from confirming a Republican president’s nominee. Once it became clear that there would be no defections in the majority’s ranks, the game was over.
They know that, but telling their electoral base that is another matter. The Democrats are easing nicely into their Tea Party phase, just as Obama-maddened Republicans did in 2010. Telling such people their dreams can’t come true is like waving a red flag before a bull.
So, to avoid looking like sellouts, the 2020 hopefuls took on the appearance of angry bovines themselves. They know they can’t help, but they must be seen to try. It’s all nonsense, but it’s good for the fundraising.
3. Democrats Use The Same Smear Tactics Since Bork
All of this transpired even before the substance of the hearing began (there were 44 interruptions in the first hour). Growing impatient with the interruptions, Grassley refuted the idea that there was insufficient disclosure about Kavanaugh, saying that his 12 years on the federal bench give the best evidence of his jurisprudence, and noting that the last Democratic nominee, Elena Kagan, was required to produce precisely zero records from her time as solicitor general.
So the committee moved on to the part where they stare at the nominee and say what they think of him. It is one of the weirder parts of the process, something like a comedy roast, but nobody’s laughing. Instead, Kavanaugh was treated to fulsome praise of his life and career from the Republicans, and castigated for faults real and imagined by the Democrats.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), who to her credit seemed embarrassed at her younger colleagues’ antics, began with the tried and true tactic of painting Kavanaugh as far outside the mainstream on abortion and gun control. Hatch parried by noting that 13 of Kavanaugh’s opinions were later adopted by the Supreme Court, a credit to his legal reasoning skills and evidence that he is no more extreme than the average Supreme Court justice.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, who like Feinstein has been here before, was similarly sedate, if inaccurate when he suggested that Kavanaugh is nuts for thinking that a sitting president could not be indicted. (He’s not, it’s a pretty normal opinion.) Apparently that wasn’t enough for the Code Pink groundlings, who interrupted Leahy’s speech, too. His fellow Democrat Dick Durbin, somewhat ungraciously, then praised the protestors as the “noise of democracy.”
4. One Senator Needs a Tin-Foil Hat
That brings us to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island). Despite the name, Whitehouse is not thought to have any designs on the executive mansion, no doubt realizing that the country is in no mood for a more aristocratic version of John Kerry. Nonetheless, he added his voice to the objections from the kiddie table earlier in the hearing, then took the opportunity to sell the audience on the sort of “connect the dots, man” theory that was once confined to vagrants’ typewritten manifestos. (Listen here, if you care to.)
Whitehouse compiled a list of 5-4 decisions which, according to him, were all won by corporate interests. These victories were all effected by a conservative court bloc that he named the “Roberts Five.” The idea that the conservatives vote as a bloc is, in itself, mad, as anyone familiar with justices John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy could tell you. But the real wild-eyed stuff was yet to come: Whitehouse says these machinations are all directed by the Federalist Society, a legal association that must now, presumably, replace the Illuminati in lefties’ fever dreams.
“Big business and partisan groups fund the Federalist Society,” Whitehouse scolded in a tone that suggested his next job would be the evil dean in a college movie, “which picked Gorsuch and now you.” He went on. “Exactly how the nominees were picked and who was in the room where it happened and who had a vote or a veto and what was said or promised, that’s all a deep dark secret.”
Secrets! Deep, dark ones, even! This is a grown man talking, remember, not a kid telling an extremely bureaucratic campfire story. He continued: “Then big business and partisan groups fund the Judicial Crisis Network which runs Dark Money political campaigns to influence Senators in confirmation votes as they’ve done for Gorsuch and now for you. Who pays millions of dollars for that and what their expectations are is a deep dark secret.”
Really? Is it really a secret that conservatives favor originalist judges and limited government in accordance with the Constitution?
Whitehouse listed many other “deep, dark secrets,” a cliché he flogged almost as hard as his new catchphrase, “the Roberts Five.” “Then, once the nominee is on the court,” he sneered, “the same business front groups with ties to the Koch Brothers”—essential to any good conspiracy theory—”and other funders of the Republican political machine file friend-of-the-Court, or amicus, briefs to signal their wishes to the Roberts Five.”
This is where we start getting into crackpot territory. The idea of amicus curiae has been around longer than the United States has and, like all briefs to the court in our adversarial legal system, is designed to suggest how the court should rule. Why should all of these possessors of “deep, dark, secrets” signal their intentions through a publicly available document rather than, say, esoteric Rosicrucian hand signals? Only Whitehouse knows.
5. Brett Kavanaugh Is A Grown-Up
Through all of the hysterics, insults, interruptions, and even Whitehouse’s mystic tales of ley lines and pod people, Kavanaugh looked on without reacting. He even managed to appear interested and to consider the import of all the calumny poured down on him from the senators’ dais.
It isn’t easy to be insulted to your face for hours with no opportunity to defend yourself, but that level of decorum and composure is what we should hope for from a nominee to the nation’s highest court. His calmness should serve, too, as an example for the residents of the festering swamps at both extremes of the political spectrum.
Extreme views and actions on the alt-right and the dirtbag left are restricted to a baleful few, but that fraction crowds out a lot of normal people and their opinions. Bad behavior and bad-faith arguments make the political process look so unsavory that many Americans tune out altogether.
Kavanaugh is a professional, and a few of the senators questioning him acted professionally yesterday, too. We need more of that, from the average citizen, to the courts, the Congress, and, yes, the White House.
In the first day’s hearings, when everyone else was talking, Kavanaugh made the biggest impact. When he was at last permitted to speak at the close of the proceedings, his words were measured and conciliatory. The country could use some more of that.