Like many of you, I get the almost-daily newsletter from Heather Cox Richardson, who reliably reports on current events and provides valuable historical context illuminating them.
Last week, Richardson made a “catch” that I had missed–and it provided further evidence of the corruption that was (along with monumental incompetence) a hallmark of the Trump Administration.
Evidently, during a Senate hearing and in response to a question from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, FBI director Christopher Wray shed light on the Administration’s short-circuiting of the background investigation into then–Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (Note: I’m not sure when that hearing occurred–it may have been one held a year or so ago.) According to that testimony, more than 4500 tips about Kavanaugh that were received by an FBI hotline were “separated out” and transmitted to the White House without investigation. The FBI subsequently interviewed only people designated by the White House.
The agency completed the supplemental background check triggered by the accusations of sexual assault in exactly four days–and FBI agents did not interview either Kavanaugh or Christine Blasely Ford, the woman who publicly testified against him, or the other women who came forward to lodge similar accusations–Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick.
The lack of clear vetting extended far beyond the allegations of personal sexual misconduct. As the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights pointed out in a letter objecting to his elevation to the Court, Kavanaugh’s judicial conduct was a matter of equal concern.
Judge Kavanaugh’s 12-year record on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as well as his known writings, speeches, and legal career, demonstrate that if he were confirmed to the Supreme Court, he would be the fifth and decisive vote to undermine many of our core rights and legal protections. In case after case, he has ruled against individuals and the environment in favor of corporations, the wealthy, and the powerful. He has advanced extreme legal theories to overturn longstanding precedent to diminish the power of federal agencies to help people. And he has demonstrated an expansive view of presidential power that includes his belief that presidents should not be subject to civil suits or criminal investigations while in office despite what misconduct may have occurred. Many of our organizations opposed Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit, and our fears and concerns have been realized. Judge Kavanaugh has not served as a neutral and fair-minded jurist. He has served as a conservative ideologue who lacks the impartiality and independence necessary to sit on the highest court in the land.
The letter went on to document the cases in which Kavanaugh had displayed his lack of “impartiality and independence,” his lack of commitment to racial justice, and his “extreme and disturbing views about presidential power.” The letter was signed by 180 organizations.
Then there was the matter of the 15 ethics complaints filed against Kavanaugh, alleging judicial misconduct during his tenure as a lower-court judge. Once he was elevated to the Supreme Court, proceedings investigating those complaints were dismissed. Dismisal was because the ethics rule provides that proceedings may be concluded if the judge charged with conducting them finds that “action on the complaint is no longer necessary because of intervening events.” The intervening event in Judge Kavanaugh’s case was his appointment to the Supreme Court. “That is because the Act covers complaints only about circuit judges, district judges, bankruptcy judges, magistrate judges, and judges of some special courts.”
And so here we are…
That this very flawed, partisan individual is on the Supreme Court is certainly troubling, but there have been other Justices whose flaws have been widely recognized. (Alito was an example well before Boggs.) What is far more troubling was the corrupt process that led to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. It’s one thing to find, after the fact, that a nominee lacks hoped-for judicial temperament or intellect. (The allegations against Clarence Thomas, for example, were fully aired, and most Americans only subsequently realized that the Senate had believed the wrong testimony.) Refusal to conduct a thorough vetting is a far more serious matter, and it’s pretty clear that short-circuiting a full and fair investigation was a deliberate–and successful– act of the Trump Administration.
I tend to harp on the importance of institutions, because the health of the American polity ultimately rests upon the integrity and ongoing utility of those institutions. Separation of Powers is a foundational element of our system of government, and when one branch can effectively control another by ignoring institutional safeguards in order to place favored individuals in positions of power, that foundational element is violated.
Elevating Brett Kavanaugh and denying Merrick Garland a hearing were two steps in the Right’s determined campaign to eliminate individual liberties and move America toward autocracy.
They have to be stopped.