An Open Letter to Senator Collins on Brett Kavanaugh

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Kavanaugh brandishes a worn “pocket” copy of the U.S. Constitution.  Are you reassured?

W.J. Astore

Brett Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court is a done deal.  Critical to his elevation was the support given to him by Senator Susan Collins of Maine.  My wife and I watched her speech yesterday, during which she praised Judge Kavanaugh for his demeanor and judicial record, affirming that he will uphold Roe v. Wade since it is “settled” law.  Collins also affirmed that Kavanaugh’s accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, experienced some form of sexual assault, but not at the hands of Kavanaugh, as there was no corroborating evidence.  In short, even though Ford affirmed under oath that she was 100% certain that a 17-year-old Kavanaugh attacked her 36 years ago, Collins chose not to credit her account as truthful or accurate.

In response to Senator Collins’s speech in praise of Kavanaugh, I wrote the following short letter to her.  Let me say this: for the good of our country, I hope I’m wrong and Senator Collins is right.

Letter to Senator Collins

Dear Senator Collins: My wife and I respectfully ask you how a 15-year-old girl misidentifies her attacker when he’s on top of her and putting his hand over her mouth so she can’t scream.

As near as we can tell, Christine Blasey Ford had no reason to lie.  Her life has been turned upside down.  Judge Kavanaugh, however, had reasons to lie.  He has a lifetime job at the highest level of his profession that hinges on denying Dr. Ford’s allegations.

We also ask you whether you approve of Judge Kavanaugh’s belligerence, his lies before the Senate committee, and his hyper-partisan attacks on the Democrats — your colleagues, even if they are on the other side.

We think you will regret the “yes” vote for Judge Kavanaugh.  He is not the man you think he is.  And we almost guarantee he will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Brett Kavanaugh Should Withdraw

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The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few — or the one.

W.J. Astore

For the good of the country, Brett Kavanaugh should withdraw his name as a nominee to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court justices are public servants.  They need to appear as unbiased and objective as possible.  Their reputations should be as unsullied as possible.  They should not be known for partisanship.  Their public temperament should be sober, serious, and balanced, while making room for empathy and compassion and humility.

Judge Kavanaugh’s reputation, fairly or unfairly, is now sullied.  A quick and limited FBI investigation will not remove the taint surrounding his name.  Based upon last Thursday’s hearing and his own testimony, Kavanaugh stood revealed as a hyper-partisan associated with a particular brand of hard-right conservatism.  Instead of sober and balanced, he came across as belligerent, angry, self-righteous, and self-pitying.  He evaded questions as he demanded answers of senators questioning him.  When he did deign to answer, his responses were often unconvincing.

Put bluntly, Kavanaugh failed to display the demeanor Americans expect of any judge, let alone a judge with a lifetime appointment to America’s highest court.

Judge Kavanaugh says he’s a fighter who will never quit.  Yet there comes a time to withdraw from a fight when that withdrawal is for the greater good of the country.

An oft-quoted line from the “Star Trek” movies is Spock’s explanation of why he sacrifices his life to save the ship.  The needs of the many, Spock says, outweigh the needs of the few — or the one.  Spock’s rule applies here.  Kavanaugh’s appointment to the court will further divide this country along partisan and gender lines.  It will be interpreted as a slap in the face to sufferers of sexual assault.  It will cause many more Americans to lose faith in the Supreme Court — this at a time when Americans already express little faith in Congress, and highly polarized opinions of the president.

The Supreme Court’s reputation is more important than any one man.  The needs of the country outweigh the needs of the few who vociferously support him, or the one.

For the reputation of the court, and for the unity of our country, Kavanaugh should withdraw.

Update (10/2/18): There appear to be only four “swing” senators: Collins, Flake, Manchin, and Murkowski.  All the other senators are reportedly voting along party lines.  I’ve been sending notes to these four “swing” senators to vote “no” on Kavanaugh.  Here is the note I sent to them this morning:

Dear Senator XXX: Why vote for Brett Kavanaugh?

It’s a serious question. A vote for him will divide the country further. It will reduce our country’s faith in the Supreme Court as a fair-minded and non-partisan institution. It will be interpreted by many as a slap in the face to women, and especially to women brave enough to come forward to share their horrific stories of sexual assault.

Why this flawed man, and no other? As a retired military officer who voted for a third-party candidate in 2016 (though I voted for Reagan in 1984), it makes no sense to me. Unless it’s all about “winning” for the Republican party, but even that makes little sense to me. Country, after all, comes before party. I learned that as a military officer.

Put country first. Please vote “no.”

The Case of Brett Kavanaugh

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W.J. Astore

President Trump’s latest nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, has been accused of sexual assault as a teenager.  Of course, I have no idea if Kavanaugh is guilty of this charge, and I doubt if such a charge could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.  Kavanaugh’s accuser (her name is Christine Blasey Ford) says he was “stumbling drunk” when he assaulted her; Kavanaugh denies the accusation.  Indeed, he claims he wasn’t even at the party when the alleged assault occurred.

Supporters of Kavanaugh are already dismissive of the accuser and disparage her motives for coming forward (consider this mocking and reprehensible post by Donald Trump Jr.).  Naturally, those who are opposed to Kavanaugh are motivated by their animosity against him to believe the accuser even before she’s testified.  So it goes in hyper-partisan America.

A hearing is scheduled for Monday, September 24th; both Kavanaugh and his accuser will testify.  I imagine both will seem credible.  And people watching will probably see what they already believe.

I’m opposed to Kavanaugh’s nomination, but I was opposed before this assault accusation was revealed.  My opposition is idiosyncratic.  To me, Kavanaugh comes across as a toady to men in power.  He praised Trump for the allegedly exhaustive process that led to his nomination.  He’s led a life of insularity and privilege, from expensive private prep schools to the Ivy League (Yale and Yale Law School) to the usual clerkships and appointments.  Strong political partisanship in favor of Republicans has characterized much of his career in the law.  From his Wiki biography:

As an attorney working for Ken Starr, Kavanaugh played a lead role in drafting the Starr Report, which urged the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Kavanaugh led the investigation into the suicide of Clinton aide Vince Foster. After the 2000 U.S. presidential election (in which Kavanaugh worked for the George W. Bush campaign in the Florida recount), Kavanaugh joined the administration as White House Staff Secretary and was a central figure in its efforts to identify and confirm judicial nominees.

His hyper-partisanship and especially his toadying before Trump make him unsuitable as a Supreme Court justice.  Indeed, Trump seems to have selected him over other conservative candidates because Kavanaugh believes a sitting president can’t or shouldn’t be indicted, a stance that’s quite attractive to Trump, who prefers spineless yes-men.

We need Supreme Court justices who uphold the law without being deferential to the powerful.  We further need justices with more than a measure of compassion for the weak.  From all I’ve read and seen, Kavanaugh won’t be that kind of justice, so I’m opposed to his nomination.

Next Monday’s hearing, and Kavanaugh’s ultimate fate, will likely further divide America along political and gender lines.  Once again, sadly, the Trump administration has found fresh ways to divide rather than to unite us.

Update (9/19): The Monday hearing is in jeopardy as Kavanaugh’s accuser calls for an FBI investigation.  Meanwhile, Kavanaugh’s supporters have come up with a strategy to defuse the sexual assault charge, as reported in the New York Times today:

Mr. Trump’s advisers and Judge Kavanaugh’s allies appeared to be settling on a strategy of defending him by suggesting that this must be a case of mistaken identity. Under the emerging strategy, Judge Kavanaugh’s defenders would accept that Dr. Blasey was in fact assaulted but would insist that it must have been by someone other than Judge Kavanaugh because he denied it.

The approach reflects the shifting reality of the #MeToo movement when it has become politically perilous to directly attack the credibility of women who come forward to tell their stories. By suggesting that perhaps there was confusion after more than 30 years, White House allies said that they could offer wavering Republicans whose votes are critical for his confirmation another explanation for the he-said-she-said conflict without tearing down Dr. Blasey.

You might call this the “It wasn’t me” strategy.

What Should Democrats Do About Gorsuch?

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W.J. Astore

What should Democrats do about Neil Gorsuch?  They should filibuster.

The reason is obvious: Merrick Garland, President Obama’s eminently qualified and moderate nominee for the Supreme Court, never even got a hearing from Republicans. Unlike obstructionist Republicans, the official party of no, a party that with a clear majority can’t even pass its own wealth/health care plan, the Democrats gave Gorsuch a fair hearing. It’s now time to oppose him.  To do anything else would be an admission of gutlessness.

Democrats, at the risk of stating the obvious: Republicans are not going to respect your sense of fair play, your bipartisanship, your willingness to compromise.  Just keep one image in mind: Republicans are Lucy holding the football, and you are Charlie Brown.  No matter how many times Lucy tells you she’s going to let you kick the ball, she’s always going to pull it away, betraying her promise while making snide comments about your gullibility.

There’s another reason not to vote for Gorsuch: the man lacks compassion.  Sure, he’s urbane, intelligent, and well-read.  He knows his way around the law.  But he seems to believe humans were made for the law, rather than the law being made for and by us.

The higher a judge rises in our system of justice, the higher the premium on compassion. The law is not a bunch of words and statutes and rulings to be adjudicated soullessly while citing “original intent,” whatever that means.  In certain rulings, like the “frozen trucker” case, Gorsuch came across as soulless, allowing strict interpretations to trump common humanity.

I’m a historian, not a lawyer, so my view of the law is somewhat different from the experts.  I see it as an artifact of history, a fluid substance, an imperfect product of imperfect humans.  That doesn’t mean it’s not vitally important; that it doesn’t deserve our respect and our protection.  But, again, the law exists for us: to uphold life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  The law shouldn’t exist solely for the powerful, for corporations, for the government, for the richest.

Justice shouldn’t be blind.  Justice requires judges to use all their senses, and not just those, but their hearts and souls as well.  It’s not enough for a judge to be learned; he or she should have empathy, a strong sense of fairness, and, again, compassion.

Gorsuch is a fan of Dickens.  While listening to him, it was difficult for me to tell whether he was Scrooge before his moral awakening, or Scrooge after it.  He came across more as the Scrooge of “Are there no prisons, no workhouses,” rather than the Scrooge who embraces charity and who freely gives to those in need.

So, Democrats, your direction should be clear: In the name of Merrick Garland, and in the cause of compassion, resist Gorsuch.  For even if you naively choose to support him, in the name of highminded fairness, Lucy will always be there to pull the football away, laughing all the while at your spineless gullibility.