WASHINGTON ― During his first confirmation hearing earlier this month, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh used a familiar analogy to describe the proper role of a judge.
“A good judge must be an umpire — a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy … I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences,” Kavanaugh said at the hearing, echoing memorable lines that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts delivered during his confirmation hearing in 2005. When asked several times to comment on particular issues of the day, Kavanaugh declined, telling senators he would not “get within three zip codes” of a political controversy, and that judges ought to be “above politics; we stay out of it.”
The version of Kavanaugh that appeared at Thursday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he denied allegations of sexual assault leveled against him by three women in recent weeks, however, was starkly different from his description of the role of a neutral third party.
Using some of the most partisan language a Supreme Court nominee has used in the modern era, Kavanaugh angrily accused Democrats of engaging in a “calculated and orchestrated political hit” that was animated by “anger at [President Donald] Trump” over the 2016 presidential election, as well as “revenge on behalf of” Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Democrats said the extraordinary claims from Kavanaugh, whom President George W. Bush appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court in 2006, made him appear more like a partisan warrior rather than a fair-minded judge who will be required to hear from litigants before the court objectively and with an open mind.
“It is hard to imagine this person being objective and fair on the Supreme Court,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted on Thursday amid Kavanaugh’s opening statement.
Ron Brownstein, an editor for The Atlantic, echoed the sentiment.
Despite Kavanaugh’s attempts to portray himself otherwise, he has been involved in partisan Republican politics for decades. He spent more than three years working on Ken Starr’s investigations into President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, urging prosecutors to question the then president in graphic detail about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, including things like oral sex, masturbation and phone sex. He pushed for expanding the Whitewater investigation during Clinton’s presidency to include looking at the death of White House staffer Vince Foster, which remains a subject of conservative conspiracy theories. Kavanaugh was also involved with George W. Bush’s legal team in the 2000 recount.
His appearances in some of the biggest political flashpoints in modern American history prompted one Democratic senator in 2004 to describe him as the “Forrest Gump of Republican politics.”
Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee pressed Kavanaugh during Thursday’s hearing to explain whether he believed Christine Blasey Ford ― who testified earlier in the day that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school while they were both teens ― was also a part of an orchestrated left-wing conspiracy, which he claimed in his opening statement had sought to derail his nomination.
“I don’t know her, but I’ve also said that we bear no ill will towards her,” Kavanaugh told Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), referring to Blasey.
Asked again by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kavanaugh faulted the Judiciary Committee, who he said “destroyed” her confidentiality.