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Brett Kavanaugh Is Scary

Vivia Chen

September 29, 2018

Brett_Michael_Kavanaugh_(2004)Whatever benefit of a doubt I had given to Brett Kavanaugh about his suitability for the U.S. Supreme Court has gone out the window. Seeing is believing, and what I saw at the Senate judiciary hearing on Thursday was jarring. It convinced me that Kavanaugh is a liar and that Christine Blasey Ford is the one telling the truth.

I knew it was a long shot, but I hoped that Kavanaugh might be more forthcoming about his youth—the hard drinking, the hard partying and the consequences that can result.

Ten days ago or so, I had made the controversial argument that his alleged behavior should be viewed in the context of the 1908s era, the culture he grew up in and his youth. I don’t believe in a black/while, hero/villain version of anyone, and I wished Kavanaugh would have met me halfway.

I would have fewer qualms about his nomination to the Supreme Court if he had said he made mistakes in his youth, learned from them and is now a changed man. I wanted him to be more reflective, more nuanced. But he was quite the opposite.

Not only did he persist in painting himself as a choirboy (how often did he allude to going to church during his youth?), but he also suggested—absurdly—that he was simply too academically engaged and accomplished to commit sexual assault. I lost count how many times he mentioned that he busted his buns at school, served as captain of various sports teams, graduated No. 1 from Georgetown Prep, went to Yale undergraduate and got into Yale Law School—which, he reminded folks, is the No. 1 law school in the country, for those of you too unsophisticated to know.

What Kavanaugh was also conveying was that he deserves to be elevated: He’s got the right resume, and damn it, he’s worked hard for it. And, oh, he will also crush you if you get in the way.

I hate to call it a distinctly male entitlement, but I honestly can’t imagine a woman acting as if she should get an automatic ticket to advancement because she’s so great. I certainly can’t imagine any woman throwing the kind of testosterone-fueled hissy fit that Kavanaugh did for a prospective job. He ranted, he cried and he made threats. Among other things, Kavanaugh called the hearings a “national disgrace,” denouncing Democrats, the left, the Clintons, Trump haters and other ghosts and goblins of the Deep State. He also said, “What goes around, comes around,” which in my book is a veiled threat. 

Overall, I found his testimony hard to watch, because I felt embarrassed for him. He lowered himself in a way I can’t remember other contenders for the Supreme Court doing.

But despite the over-spilling emotions, he kept to his script, denying his heavy drinking, the derogatory sexual term that he and other male schoolmates used to describe a girl in high school and dodging questions about whether he’d insist on an FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations made against him. In short, he lied about things seemingly big and trivial (New York Times has compiled a much more comprehensive list.)

And Ford? She was a study in contrast in every way. Though she’s the one who allegedly endured a sexual assault, she didn’t show any bitterness or anger. If anything, she tried to be cooperative (or “collegial” to use her word), in a room full of people out to tear her apart. (The all-male Republican judiciary committee outsourced the questioning to female prosecutor Rachel Mitchell.)

Ford recounted the details of her assault calmly, if a bit nervously. And she didn’t flinch when asked if she was sure if Kavanaugh was her attacker: “One hundred percent,” she answered.

What rang true about Ford was her demeanor. Seeing her in person—her awkwardness, her hesitation, her nerdiness—made her real and relatable. She reminds me of one of the “nice” girls in high school and college–some who were a bit shy, a little too eager to please and much too insecure.

Of course, there are holes in Ford’s version of events (like the lack of witnesses), which is why this matter and the two other sexual assault charges against Kavanaugh should be investigated by the FBI.

Will that happen? Who knows? But Ford deserves an investigation—and so do all of us.

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist.


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This was a job interview. Kavanaugh insulted the people interviewing him for the job. No way to get a job. He flunked the interview.

The Clintons? What did that have to do with him trying to get a job?

From “Kavanaugh: A Legal Assessment—With Some Personal Reflections” by Harvey Silverglate, WGBH.com (Boston), Sept. 26: Posted by the Wall Street Journal, "Notable and Quotable."

When does “adolescence” occur? I’ve represented a lot of kids in trouble. And I can tell you that in the modern era, adolescence begins around age 12 and lasts through college graduation (or, for kids who don’t attend college, the age at which kids would graduate).

This is not just my opinion: Society has juvenile courts for transgressions committed in adolescence; the legal system does not want to give mere kids a permanent criminal record. Even at a time when too many juveniles are treated as adults, it is more often than not a widely accepted guiding principle that kids are given a pass by being treated and taught more than punished.

Among many of my friends in Cambridge and Boston, my view of [Brett] Kavanaugh is considered wrongheaded—if not reckless, even dangerous. So, I’ll make matters worse by saying that so much of the case being made against Kavanaugh is cynical, if not outright dishonest. It has nothing to do with his qualifications to be a Supreme Court justice. Nor is it reflective of how Kavanaugh’s most ardent critics really feel about the extent to which adults should be punished later in life for their adolescent transgressions. They would not want their own children, nor themselves for that matter, treated in the way they are campaigning for Kavanaugh to be treated. This is a classic example of the hypocrisy of the current socio-political moment.

You were right the first time, Vivia. Girls put up with a lot, back in the day. Perhaps the FBI investigation will settle the open questions. As for this week's testimony, Kavanaugh and his family have been under terrible pressure. He is a highly respected judge, but overwrought Democrats on the committee have savaged him with none of the restraint that would have been appropriate. They accused him of being "evil," and of numerous personal and professional defects. Perhaps a saint would have withstood those attacks better. But surely, Vivia, it is easy to understand why Kavanaugh admitted nothing. Let's begin by giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming he believes there is nothing to admit. But even if there were--and I agree there may have been things he could have admitted--he had already been driven nearly to tears. If he had thrown the Democrats even one ounce of red meat, they would have massacred him. On national television. They would have expanded an ounce of youthful failure into a hundred pounds of adult criminality. Would any rational person open himself to that? I think not.

Kavanaugh believes he is entitled to the Supreme Court job. Unfortunately for him, "what goes around, comes around."

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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