One of the strangest Supreme Court nominations in American history continues to surprise. On Thursday, Brett Kavanaugh used a Wall Street Journal essay to address critics who thought he broke norms with his highly partisan and angry rhetoric during the hearings last week. In those hearings, Kananaugh blamed accusations of sexual assault made against him on a conspiracy of Democrats who wanted “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” He also raised the spectre of revenge, warning Democrats that “what goes around comes around.”
After his tirade, there were understandable concerns, voiced by figures like former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, about whether Kavanaugh had the proper temperament for the highest court of the land.
Kavanaugh’s Wall Street Journal essay was clearly meant to assuage such worries, an intent visible even in the headline: “I am an Independent, Impartial Judge.”
On the face of it, it’s strange that this claim has to be made. After all, independence and impartiality are the bare minimum qualities any judge should have, not just a Supreme Court justice. If Kavanaugh has to assert that he possesses these qualities, then that suggests a deep flaw in his nomination.
In his mea culpa, Kavanaugh justifies his injudicious remarks by saying they sprang from personal sources:
I was very emotional last Thursday, more so than I have ever been. I might have been too emotional at times. I know that my tone was sharp, and I said a few things I should not have said. I hope everyone can understand that I was there as a son, husband and dad. I testified with five people foremost in my mind: my mom, my dad, my wife, and most of all my daughters.
Even on its own terms, these comments make no sense. How would blaming a Democratic conspiracy and raising the prospect of revenge (“what goes around comes around”) please his parents, his wife or his daughters?
As New York University historian Tom Sugrue tweeted: