Murari Sharma: Kavanaugh has failed the job interview

On 27 September 2018, I watched the testimony by Christine Ford and Brett Kavanaugh in the US Senate Judiciary Committee and could not help to conclude that the US justice system has lost its soul in these hyper-partisan times. Though the hearing is only part of the vetting process, if it were the only process, Kavanaugh has failed to establish his bona fides and failed his job interview.

For starters, the US President Donald Trump has nominated Judge Kavanaugh for the vacancy left open in the Supreme Court by the retirement of Anthony Kennedy.  Ford has alleged the judge had sexually molested her when both of them were in high school. He said he never did it.

Both Ford and Kavanaugh did it under oath. She said with 100 percent certainty that Kavanaugh assaulted her. He said, though sometimes he drank too many beers, he never assaulted Ford. Evidently, one of them has lied under oath and committed a crime, but it would be impossible to know who has been mendacious until an independent body carries out a thorough investigation.  

Both Ford and Kavanaugh made their cases forcefully and emotionally. Several times, both suffered a broken voice. Both had backers in the Judiciary Committee. Democrat senators were soft on Ford. Republican senators asked Rachel Mitchel, a prosecutor tapped by the all-male Republican senators to question Ford, and openly urged and egged on the judge to spit fire against the Democrats. 

Other than that, their presentations were in sharp contrasts.  Ford was calm, clear, coherent, professional and believable. In contrast, Kavanaugh was hysterical, angry, incoherent, obfuscating, evasive, openly political and unprofessional. If they were being interviewed for their academic grade, Ford would have received my A+ and Kavanaugh no more than a C.  

Similarly, if Ford and Kavanaugh were competing for the same one vacancy and if I was one of the selectors, my vote would have gone to Ford, not Kavanaugh. I have several reasons for such evaluation.   

One, Ford was measured, civil, polite, composed, and apolitical. These are qualities the American people would want in Supreme Court justices who are appointed for a lifetime. Kavanaugh was just the opposite — hysterical, rude, restless and threatening, and highly political. He openly lashed out at Democrats, almost half of the Judiciary Committee membership — 10 out of 21 members. 

Two, Supreme Court justices, appointed for a lifetime, must in principle stay, and act, above the political fray. Ford mentioned that she was independent and acted like one, without slinging partisan muck. On the other hand, the man who was supposed to be above politics attacked one party as if he was one of the political operatives, not a judge who must apply the law without fear or favor.  

Three, Ford’s presentation and answers were clear, logical and coherent, like that of an accomplished judge, even though she was the victim of a sexual assault by Kavanaugh.  In contrast, the judge was evasive, obfuscating, and frequently illogical and incoherent. 

Four, I am sure both Ford and Kavanaugh rehearsed their presentation prior to the testimony, but their public presentations were in sharp contrast. She could have been more hysterical because she was the victim. But Kavanaugh was way more hysterical, aggressive and over-rehearsed, giving the impression that he was hiding the facts behind the drama. Perhaps, he rehearsed too much.

The judge might have imitated the hyper combative style of President Trump who nominated him. The style the privileged minority grievance and anger shown towards the lesser mortals who are trying to hold them to account. But there is a significant difference between them.

Trump has been using elite victim-hood and anger to score political points and prolong his rule beyond the first term. It makes his style politically understandable. Kavanaugh, a judge, must have been balanced, judicious, and professional.  But he was ill-tempered and hysterical and therefore professionally inexcusable. 

What makes Kavanaugh’s performance dreadful is that, if he is confirmed, the Supreme Court, already polarized between conservative and liberal justices, will be further politicized. At 53, as a lifetime judge, his legal views will shape the course of the US justice system for decades in the wrong direction. 

On a personal level, I fully sympathize with Ford who was sexually assaulted. If Kavanaugh is innocent, as he has claimed he is, I equally sympathize with him. But the issue has already tarnished his image beyond redemption. Even if the Republican majority in the Senate rams his nomination through (though FBI is asked to investigate the allegations before the Senate vote), his public image as a reckless sex predator when he was young will stick to him forever regardless of the FBI’s findings.

As a result, even when he uses his best legal mind, his legal opinions and verdicts will always be suspect of partisan and anti-women bias. Therefore, it would be best for the US justice system for Kavanaugh to pull out his candidature and let someone else without such controversy take the seat in the Supreme Court.  

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