Brett Kavanaugh And The Men Who Say Nothing

His career was built on a code of silence. HuffPost spoke to one man who broke it.
Donald Trump is not even the most notorious accused sexual harasser in Brett Kavanaugh's circle.
Donald Trump is not even the most notorious accused sexual harasser in Brett Kavanaugh's circle.

Brett Kavanaugh, the embattled Supreme Court nominee facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, stands on the shoulders of some of the country’s most powerful and influential misogynists.

The man who nominated him to the Supreme Court is Donald Trump, himself accused by more than a dozen women of sexual misconduct. His high school pal is Mark Judge, a well-known conservative author whose writing reveals a deep disdain for women and especially feminists.

But perhaps one of the most influential figures in Kavanaugh’s career is his longtime mentor: Alex Kozinski, a well-known federal judge who resigned last December after many women came forward to describe his sexual harassment and misconduct.

Kavanaugh has steadfastly claimed he knew nothing about Kozinski’s behavior, and couldn’t recall anything inappropriate about him. Yet considering the overwhelming evidence that’s piled up about Kozinski, Kavanaugh’s denial seems preposterous.

“Everybody knew,” writes longtime legal columnist Dahlia Lithwick for Slate, explaining she had experience with Kozinski since the late 1990s.

“There’s no way Kavanaugh didn’t know,” a man who clerked for Kozinski more than a decade ago told HuffPost recently. Others have asked how Kavanaugh could have possibly been ignorant of the judge’s sexism and misconduct. 

Alex Kozinski, then a judge for the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, looks on during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on
Alex Kozinski, then a judge for the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, looks on during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on March 16, 2017.

The former clerk is the rare man to speak up about Kozinski ― most of the judge’s accusers are women. Indeed, this man says he even took the almost unheard-of step of telling Kozinkski that his behavior was inappropriate.

During the man’s clerkship, Kozinski showed him a video of naked women skydiving, he told HuffPost. “He thought it was hilarious to watch their breasts ‘flap’ back and forth,” he recalled.

The former clerk declined to be named in HuffPost for privacy reasons, but Catharine MacKinnon, a prominent professor at the University of Michigan Law School who first conceptualized the notion of sexual harassment in the legal system, confirmed his story.

“He spoke of hearing in the chambers things Judge Kozinski said that I vividly recall were sexually salacious,” she said, adding that the judge made this man extremely uncomfortable. The former clerk was MacKinnon’s research assistant years ago.

Men weren’t typically the butt of Kozinski’s jokes. The former clerk remembered that while Kozinski was evaluating the application of a woman who was second in her class at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, the judge had described her as the sort of woman who would only give you a handjob.

Even as a bystander, the former clerk said, he was offended.

“He thought it was discriminatory, harassing to everybody in the chambers. He was absolutely horrified and attempted to convey his lack of enjoyment of this to the judge,” MacKinnon said.

The former clerk said he set up a meeting with Kozinski to directly confront him, telling him these comments about women were just too much and that the overall atmosphere felt abusive.

He said Kozinski responded by telling him a joke: “How can you tell if a woman has an orgasm?” The answer: “Who cares.”

The message was: Kozinski didn’t care.

A week later, the law clerk quit.

He tried to get another clerkship, but found that Kozinski had thrown up roadblocks, he said.

“Suddenly, he had no prospects,” MacKinnon recalled. “He struggled professionally for some time trying to recover.”

MacKinnon said she never again recommended Kozinski to students who were looking for coveted legal clerkships.

The former clerk’s story perfectly illustrates why someone like Kavanaugh, an ultra-ambitious lawyer on a glide path to the Supreme Court, would never admit to knowing what his mentor was truly like.  

That kind of complicity is how harassers stay in power.

Brett Kavanaugh looks on as his former boss Alex Kozinski testifies during a Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing.
Brett Kavanaugh looks on as his former boss Alex Kozinski testifies during a Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing.

Kavanaugh clerked for Kozinski in 1991 and remained in close contact with him over the years. They co-authored at least one book and sat on panels together. They even helped vet law clerks for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, an incredibly influential role.

“Judge and law clerk are in fact tethered together by an invisible cord for the rest of their mutual careers,” Kozinski famously wrote in a paper called “Confessions of a Bad Apple,” published in the Yale Law Review the same year Kavanaugh clerked for him.  

Kozinski, of course, is THE ultimate judicial bad apple.

Fifteen women, including one judge and several former clerks, told The Washington Post last year how Kozinski, a Reagan appointee on the country’s biggest federal court, had shown them pornographic images in his chambers, made grossly inappropriate comments, and stared at and groped their breasts.

Heidi Bond, who clerked for Kozinski in 2006 and 2007, described how the judge showed her photos of naked people, asking her if she was turned on.

“When I first arrived in chambers, the outgoing clerks suggested that we should watch The Aristocrats, a documentary about a notorious dirty joke, to prepare ourselves for the upcoming year,” Bond, who left the legal profession entirely, wrote in Slate recently.

“Having clerked in his chambers, I do not know how it would be possible to forget something as pervasive as Kozinski’s famously sexual sense of humor,” she said.

Kozinski was one of a handful of federal judges known for feeding clerks to the Supreme Court. If you landed a job clerking with him, you scored a golden ticket to a prestigious legal career in the United States.

Indeed, after Kavanaugh’s clerkship with Kozinski ended, he went on to work for Justice Anthony Kennedy on the high court and subsequently skipped down the path to his current nomination.

Crossing Kozinski almost certainly would’ve put a halt to all that.

Even if we take Kavanaugh at his word that he had no idea one of his most important professional contacts was a serial abuser, it raises a crucial question: Does he understand what sexual misconduct looks like?

“Who knows what kinds of sexual harassment issues Kavanaugh will have the opportunity to decide on over the next 30 years or so,” Elie Mistal wrote in Above the Law this summer. “Whether the man can even recognize sexual harassment WHEN HE SEES IT is relevant.

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