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Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama

Stage set Washington.  Object: adulterating power.  The arm of government: the judiciary.  That particular group of high ranking paladins remains up in the air as US Supreme Court appointee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh floats around in a stage of grinding limbo, as sexual allegations made start to bite.  This purgatorial state promises to resolve itself next week.

Palo Alto professor of psychology Christine Blasey Ford insists that Kavanaugh and another Georgetown Prep student, Mark Judge, locked her in a room during a party held in 1982.  What followed was what was termed an “attempted rape”, with Kavanaugh allegedly making a vain effort to remove Ford’s clothes.

That Kavanaugh has survived this long in the Me Too age as a nominee of one of the most influential bodies of US governance is a fair indicator that Trumpland has done much to disrupt a certain sensibility. That sensibility might be hypocritical, but it is a disruption no less.  Trump, for his part, has also aided his nominee’s cause by withholding some hundred thousand documents of the judge’s records from the Bush White House on presidential privilege grounds.

This show has been given a blood rushing boost, with the parties drawing battlelines in what promises to be a squalid spectacle. Whether it is those who back Ford, or the judge himself, the parties are jousting over grounds of fairness and how best to confront the allegations.  The Democrats insist that the process cannot go further without an investigation by the FBI. Debra Katz, one of Ford’s legal team, has reiterated that line for her client.

Senate Republicans have rebuffed it, many seeing Ford’s spoiling role as having no significant impact on the confirmation process. “We got a little hiccup here with the Kavanaugh nomination,” came a confident Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who was also convinced that “we’ll get through this and we’ll get off to the races.” Senator John Cornyn of Texas suggested Ford, whether she wanted to “participate and tell her story” or otherwise would be “no reason for us to delay”.

Kavanaugh has done himself few favours, though he has tried to water down speculations about any reactionary tendencies that might manifest should he actually make it to the bench.  His record as a staunchly conservative jurist who has more than sniffed the glue of criticism offered against Roe v Wade suggests that a regressive trend in Supreme Court jurisprudence might be in the offing.  This is hidden behind the language of a studied objectivity.  Before the Senate judiciary committee, he explained that, “A good judge must be an umpire – a neutral and impartial arbiter who favours no litigant or policy.”

He is also a creature happy to reflect about his time as a testosterone charged student – in certain company.  In 2015, he remembered those days fondly before an audience at the Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, reflecting on the comments of his dean from that time: “What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep.”

His statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee was an effort, in part, to convey an image that has taken something of a battering.  Wanting to earn plaudits on the pro-women ledger, he expressed pride at his mother’s efforts to become one of “the few women prosecutors at the time”.  He peppered his delivery with references to coaching female basketball teams, including those of his daughters.  “I love coaching.  All the girls I have coached are awesome,” came the crawling observation from Kavanaugh’s opening statement, suggesting a manager all too keen on being liked.  It’s all the casting game, the show of decent appearances.  “A majority of my 48 law clerks have been women.  More than a quarter of my law clerks have been minorities.” In this, shallowness plays all ways: ticking the boxes of what, on the surface, looks like compliance and observance.

The show of having Blasey and Kavanaugh presented like celebrity life stock for political purchase is something that does little to consider accusations and grounds.   This is Trump’s deforming legacy: the show matters far more than either outcome or substantive details.  For that reason, GOP strategists concerned that Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual proclivities might somehow find their way in disturbing the President’s popularity have missed a beat.

One such individual is Liz Mair, a consultant for the Republicans.  “Trump already has a problem with suburban women,” Mair is noted as saying in USA Today.  “The way this is going, I don’t see any great upside here for the GOP.”  Mair should be retained for other tasks, have tripped over the obvious point that Trump’s aggressive, engaged voters find groping hands, dedicated misogyny and callousness less significant that the Making America Great Again Show.  It should be remembered that the consequences of the “Access Hollywood” tape was guaranteed, cycle-news notoriety that did wonders to enhance a profile rather than diminish credibility.

Lisa J. Banks, also representing Ford, was none too impressed with the show, though she did concede her client’s willingness to work with the judiciary committee.  “The committee’s stated plan to move forward with a hearing that has only two witnesses is not a fair or good faith investigation; there are multiple witnesses whose names have appeared publicly and should be included in any proceeding.”  For his part, Kavanaugh insists on a categorical and unequivocal denial. “I remain committed to defending my integrity.”

The politics of calculation in this instance is everything.  At the moment, the Republicans are doing their best to ensure that Judge Kavanaugh gets confirmation before the mid-term elections, slotting him in before any inevitable entropy.  A Democratic-controlled Senate, should it eventuate, will make the prospects of getting this marred creature onto the bench significantly more difficult.

 

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Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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