Once upon a time, there was a group of Americans who called themselves “small-c conservatives.”
And within that group, there were various credos, among them the sacred belief that the U.S. Constitution’s capacity to shepherd a large, complex nation through almost any crisis was limitless. For this long-ago tribe, the replacement of feudalistic notions of power and repression with a slow-moving democratically-dictated set of institutions was the triumph of the species — ensuring both the end of monarchy and the protection minority interests from the mob.
Accordingly, these folk believed that these institutions were more important than any individual person’s interests. For if their integrity, popular legitimacy, or public credibility slipped, and the people felt the covenant between the government and themselves had been broken, all that insulation against chaos, tyranny, and cruelty would shatter. No man or woman could place himself above the integrity of these institutions, the small-c conservative believed, even if it meant great personal sacrifice for that greater good.
And Brett Kavanaugh, the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court doesn’t share these ancient beliefs.
Asked point-blank by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) if he would be willing to delay his nomination proceedings by one week to allow a further investigation to clear his name before taking office, Kavanaugh said no.
Not as succinctly as all that, of course, as Kavanaugh largely refused to give yes or no answers to Democrats questioning him throughout Thursday’s hearing. But he unmistakably rejected the call to place the public trust above his own comfort.
“What I’ve struggled with, Judge Kavanaugh, is the absence of a fair, federal-law-enforcement-driven, non-partisan process to question the various people who I think are critical to this,” Coons said, referring (among other witnesses) to Kavanaugh’s good friend Mark Judge, a conservative firebrand who’s written voluminously about both his years-long struggle with alcoholism and his expressed discomfort with efforts to modernize the definition of sexual consent.
“My concern, should you move forward, is what it will do to the credibility of the Court, and how that may well hang over your service,” Coons went on, asking the judge to agree to one week’s delay while law enforcement investigates allegations against him and inconsistencies between how he’s portrayed his alcohol use in the past and how he portrayed it to senators.
“When you say a week delay, do you know how long the last ten days have been for us?” Kavanaugh answered.
“They were probably an eternity,” said Coons, adding that Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation was delayed by four days after Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment.
“For us, every day, every day has been a lifetime,” Kavanaugh answered. “And you know, yeah, it’s been investigated and all four witnesses say it didn’t happen, and they’ve said it under penalty of felony, and I’ve produced my calendars, which show, you know, a lot, that’s very, that’s important evidence and you act like, I mean, every, the last 10 days, I asked for a hearing the day after the allegation.”
Coons’s time was up. The hearings returned to a familiar pattern of Republican committee members begging Kavanaugh’s forgiveness, blasting Democrats’ handling of the matter, and generally avoiding any substantive questions about the myriad contradictions — such as those between Kavanaugh’s past speeches about his drinking and his new claims that he’s never once blacked out drunk.
Nevertheless, Kavanaugh’s preference to join the court quickly — regardless of the deleterious impact these lingering questions may impose on the institution that preserves the durability of the Constitution as a bulwark in the most fraught edge-case scenarios for U.S. democracy — was clear.