Brett Kavanaugh will be one of the most pro-choice, pro-contraception, anti-executive-power justices in the recent history of the Supreme Court.
This is not the lunatic raving of an embittered supporter of the truly conservative Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump's supposed runner-up pick for the Supreme Court seat vacated by Anthony Kennedy and the unanimous choice of Americans who wish to see Roe v. Wade overturned. It is the unequivocal testimony of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) during a lengthy — and painfully over-the-top — floor speech on Friday ahead of the final vote on Kavanaugh's nomination in the Senate.
Is Collins telling the truth? Her own pro-choice views about abortion are well known. It is difficult to imagine one of the GOP's most rebellious senators lying on behalf of the most controversial nominee to the high court since Robert Bork. It is also, of course, possible that Kavanaugh was himself less than truthful about his views in his conversations with her. But what if both of them were telling the truth? More than one source in conservative legal circles has assured me that Kavanaugh would, if given the chance, overturn Roe.
The truth is, when it comes to Kavanaugh's views about the handful of moral questions that are the actual substance of our wide-ranging public debate about the judiciary, we are in the same position we are in addressing the sexual assault accusations made against him by Christine Blasey Ford — he said, she said.
Earlier on Friday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) argued that the question of Kavanaugh's nomination should not be allowed to become "a proxy war" for the #MeToo movement, of which he considers himself an ally. I am sure he was speaking in good faith. But he was also wrong — it has already become one. It became one in part because the majority of Kavanaugh's supporters outside the Senate responded, on the basis of no evidence, in the absence of any testimony, that Ford was either obviously lying or confused or that holding a woman down on a bed, attempting to strip off her clothes, and covering her mouth to muffle the sound of her screams is, in the words of a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, "not one of the sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance," which I assume this moron thinks is code for "no big deal."
Do not misunderstand me. While I have written on numerous occasions that Ford's accusations were worthy of being taken seriously, I believe that it is virtually impossible on the basis of her and Kavanaugh's competing testimonies to arrive at anything like certainty about the allegations. I consider myself an agnostic whose prejudices make my own conclusions unworthy of sharing. Meanwhile I respect anyone who argues that given the lack of corroborating evidence from each of the alleged witnesses the judge is likely innocent. But this is not the same thing as an ipso facto insistence upon his innocence, which was almost unanimous in conservative circles. (It is also a view that I think would likely have been more difficult to entertain had Mark Judge been forced to testify.) If the Kavanaugh nomination became a referendum on the importance of believing women, it is because prominent conservatives made it one.
The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that only one senator distinguished herself over the course of these proceedings: Lisa Murkowski, the lone Republican who voted against Kavanaugh in Friday's crucial vote. Never mind the abuse hurled at her from the right and the deceitful clemency offered to her by Democrats. The senior senator from Alaska spoke to the feelings of millions of Americans when she said that she voted against Kavanaugh despite her conviction that he is a "good man."
It is easy to dismiss her apparently last-minute decision as an empty grandstanding gesture. I am not so sure that's what it was, though it should of course be pointed out that many assumed she would vote against him long before Ford's allegations emerged. Whatever the consequences of her vote will be in her home state, I think it is almost certain that her name is now mud in Washington Republican circles. Why take such a risk, especially when it would not ultimately change the outcome?
Consider what she told reporters on Friday afternoon:
Full quote from Murkowski to a gaggle this hour: pic.twitter.com/tT3EeBWzqP
— Elise Viebeck (@eliseviebeck) October 5, 2018
Murkowski was absolutely right to say that the controversy is "bigger than one nominee." It has been for three weeks. Her colleague Sen. Rubio claimed on Friday that a no vote would forever be interpreted as a verdict of guilt. This is probably true for some, I suppose, though one imagines that many of those who have reached this conclusion on the basis of the available evidence will stick to it regardless of whether or not he is confirmed. In any case, it is also true that for just as many others there seems to be no just conclusion to a series of events that have scandalized the American people.
The relentless logic of partisanship has led many conservatives to argue that the scandal is the very reason that Kavanaugh — whose testimony has invited blasphemous comparisons to the agony of Christ on the Cross — must be confirmed, under the assumption that taking such a stand will prevent the manufacturing of hypothetical false allegations against hypothetical future judicial and Cabinet nominees by hypothetical future presidents with the perfidious cooperation of hypothetical future Senate Democrats.
Murkowski disagrees. Kavanaugh, honorable judge and qualified lawyer though she considers him, is not, she says, "the right man for the Court at this time." This is not a feeling that can be justified on strictly logical grounds. It is one of those stirrings of conscience, vague but unmistakable, that cannot be ignored.
I cannot blame her for responding to it as she did. What about her Republican colleagues? President Trump could have replaced Kavanaugh with another qualified candidate — perhaps one with more support among the pro-life constituency — weeks ago. He did not withdraw his nominee, nor is there any evidence to suggest that GOP senators wished to see him do so. Why? Was this about tactics? Kavanaugh's personal honor? Owning the libs? The lives of the unborn? Logically it cannot be all of the above, unless Susan Collins is misunderstanding Kavanaugh's views, a liar, or the victim of a deception herself. Who knows.
In any case, Republicans have their man now. Was it worth it?