Opinion

Why Brett Kavanaugh’s conduct matters

President Donald J. Trump listens to Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh during a July 9 announcement of his nomination to the Supreme Court.
President Donald J. Trump listens to Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh during a July 9 announcement of his nomination to the Supreme Court. Washington Post

Why does it matter whether a then-17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh drunkenly tried to rape a 15 year old, at a house party, 36 years ago?

That question is implicit in all of the Republican defenses of the Supreme Court nominee. The accusation amounts to “a little hiccup,” says Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.; a “drive-by shooting,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC; and, generally speaking, a cheap “smear,” according to many other Kavanaugh enthusiasts.

Let’s examine why it does matter whether Kavanaugh assaulted someone as an inebriated adolescent, why it does matter whether his denials are credible now — and why we should absolutely want an independent, nonpartisan investigation, perhaps led by the FBI, to ferret out the truth as fully as possible.

Some have argued that the accusation matters because confirming Kavanaugh without resolving it would sully the reputation of the Supreme Court. Or it matters because it serves to deepen the impression that the Republican Party sees victims of sexual violence as disposable.

But in my view, the accusation matters most because of what it implies about Kavanaugh’s general qualities not as a role model, or as a representative of his party, but what he might do as a judge.

Teenagers, particularly drunken teenagers, sometimes commit awful, cruel, even criminal acts. When possible, they should be held appropriately accountable. However, what provides more insight into a person’s moral rectitude is, arguably, not what he did as a minor but how he handles such sins once he has developed into a mature adult. Specifically, whether he takes responsibility and expresses contrition.

And if Kavanaugh is continuing — today, as a 53-year-old man — to deny a crime he in fact did commit as a drunken teenager, that casts doubt not only upon his character as a teen but also on his trustworthiness in other high-stakes matters today.

Kavanaugh’s public statement thus far has been brief: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.” But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has added another to Kavanaugh’s denial, saying through a spokesman that Kavanaugh personally told the senator he was “not at a party like the one [accuser Christine Blasey Ford] describes.”

Assuming Hatch is faithfully repeating this conversation, the assertion that Kavanaugh wasn’t at a party like the one described is at best fishy. After all, Ford’s own recollection of the alleged incident is hazy and offers few details — including where the party was — beyond the fact that it was a house with no parents present, where just a few teens were drinking and Kavanaugh’s close friend was present, probably in 1982.

More significantly, his evasiveness in other exchanges with senators — about, for example, receiving stolen information while working in the George W. Bush White House, or getting sexually explicit mass emails from a circuit judge — have likewise called his candor into question. Perhaps the explanation is a willful blindness and not any duplicity. But that’s hardly a better quality to seek out in a Supreme Court justice.

If Kavanaugh lied to senators about not remembering parties or stolen memos or anything else, why would we believe he isn’t lying about his commitment to impartiality and precedent? Why would we believe him when he told Sen. Susan Collins that he believes Roe v. Wade is “settled law”?

Senate Republicans have set an artificial deadline of Monday for Ford to testify. They have also refused to order an FBI investigation in the meantime, or even to subpoena a witness Ford named. Perhaps one reason is that they don’t want to find out what evidence might turn up. And what dots the public might connect as a result.

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