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President Trump’s big reveal last Monday night introduced much of the country to his Supreme Court nominee, federal judge Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump hopes will replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Of course, many political insiders and legal authorities are already familiar with Kanavaugh and will take great pains to tell the rest of us what they know, along with what they conjecture. Some will be supporters and some will be opposed to his nomination. The way things go these days, it’s best to be prepared for a certain amount of misinformation and hyperbole, both in support of and in opposition to the nomination. It may be hard for the discerning media consumer to get to the truth.
This situation didn’t start with Kavanaugh, of course. Supreme Court nominees are always controversial. Claims of smear campaigns and obstruction always play a role. Nobody ever said politics was fair.
What we know: Kavanaugh has a distinguished judicial record. Appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia circuit by President George W. Bush, he’s served for 12 years with no hint of scandal. He’s reportedly very well respected by legal professionals on both sides of the political divide. He’s sent more than 40 of his law clerks, of all political leanings, to similar posts at the high court. His colleagues speak of his work ethic, his ability and his integrity.
That being said, the vast majority of his rulings have been reliably conservative.
We’ve become used to thinking of judges as being either conservative or liberal rather than judicious and fair. It’s to our nation’s detriment that our politics have become so polarized and partisans on both sides jockey for advantage rather than fairness. Such labels have sometimes proved, though, to be inadequate in pre-determining which way a judge will rule. Maybe that will be the case with Kavanaugh, if he’s confirmed.
“What matters is not a judge’s political views but whether they can set aside those views to do what the law and the Constitution require,” Trump said while introducing his nominee. It may be the smartest thing Trump has ever said. His sincerity is also, unavoidably, highly suspect, considering his penchant for misstating the facts.
One must be forgiven for considering the possibility of ulterior motive in the nomination. Kavanaugh is the only nominee on Trump’s — or, rather, the Federalist Society’s — short list who has argued that a president shouldn’t be burdened by lawsuits, investigations and indictments while in office. Is it too cynical to think that this view may have appealed to Trump?
We hope that Democratic legislators, many of whom have already lined up against Kavanaugh, will give him a fair hearing. That may be difficult, after the obstruction practiced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who refused to give a fair hearing to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. A lot of Democrats still feel bitter over that decision and will urge their legislators to fight Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything they’ve got.
But while there will be valid concerns to express and discuss, “everything they’ve got” is likely not to be enough. And considering some of the other options, pragmatically, Kanavaugh may be the best choice for whom Democrats could hope.
We’ll be watching the hearings like everyone else, hoping to learn more about Kavanaugh and hoping to find him to be commendable and acceptable, so that we can move away from the drama of the Supreme Court selection to other important issues. There’s no shortage of other important issues.