Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh described to law school students what it takes to be a good judge: Be “calm amidst the storm,” keep emotions “in check” and “don’t be a jerk.”
Also, “first and most obviously,” a judge cannot be a “political partisan,” he told members of the Columbus Law School at Catholic University three years ago in a speech titled “The Judge as Umpire” (see the video above).
His description of the necessary judicial temperament was a dramatic contrast to his own combative, belligerent behavior at a hearing last week as he defended himself against an accusation of sexual assault from Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford.
As for political partisanship, Kavanaugh characterized the allegation and hearing as a “calculated” and conspiratorial “political hit” job by Senate Democrats out to get “revenge on behalf of the Clintons,” whom he had investigated in the 1990s as part of independent counsel Ken Starr’s staff. He railed against unnamed “outside left-wing opposition groups.”
He also loudly and angrily talked over questions from Democratic senators on the judiciary committee who were considering his nomination. At one point, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked him if he had ever drunk so much alcohol that he’d forgotten what happened. “No, I remember what happened,” Kavanaugh shot back. “And I think you’ve probably had beer, senator.”
He presented a very different view of the proper temperament for a judge in the speech at Catholic University, which was analyzed by Mother Jones:
To be a good judge and a good umpire, it’s important to have the proper demeanor. Really important, I think. To walk in the others’ shoes, whether it be the other litigants, the litigants in the case, the other judges. To understand them. To keep our emotions in check. To be calm amidst the storm. On the bench, to put it in the vernacular, don’t be a jerk. I think that’s important. To be a good umpire and a good judge, don’t be a jerk.
Kavanaugh also said judges should “demonstrate civility” in their opinions — and guard against creeping arrogance:
There’s a danger of arrogance, as for umpires, for referees, but also for judges. And I would say that danger grows the more time you’re on the bench. As one of my colleagues puts it, you become more like yourself —and that can be a problem.
The speech also included the infamous line: “Whatever happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep,” the private boys’ high school he attended at the time of the alleged assault in 1982.
The FBI is now investigating accusations of sexual misconduct, including Blasey’s, against Kavanaugh. Some senators also want the bureau to determine if Kavanaugh lied under oath during his hearing. But his behavior last week has also raised questions about if his temperament is appropriate for the highest judicial post in the nation.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) — who joined with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to press for the FBI investigation before a confirmation vote is held on the floor of the Senate — expressed concerns about Kavanaugh’s behavior. He said in a CBS News interview Sunday that he thought Kavanaugh “went over a line” in certain confrontations with senators at the hearing. “He was clearly belligerent — aggressive, angry,” in a way that made Coons wonder about his suitability for the Supreme Court.
Watch Kavanaugh’s entire 2015 Columbus Law School speech in the video above. He discusses the attributes of good judges beginning at 12:55.
Mother Jones has trimmed it to some of the most pertinent sections here: