CMU professors react to Kavanaugh’s hearing and confirmation


Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in at the beginning of his hearing on Sept. 4 on the Capital Hill in Washington. Kavanaugh was confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee Oct. 6.

Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court comes after a long and bitter partisan battle, with few swing votes deciding his fate. President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh after Justice Anthony Kennedy stepped down. Supreme Court justices hold their positions for life, or until they step down.

Kavanaugh faced criticism after several women claimed he had sexually assaulted them in high school and college. Despite testimony from accusers and a limited FBI investigation, senate Republicans nearly unanimously confirmed him with help from one Democratic senator. 

Both Kavanaugh and Republicans - including President Trump - claimed the accusations were politically motivated. 

“What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open and hope you win in 2020. You said that, not me... I hope the American people can see through this sham,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said. 

Graham also seemed to threaten similar treatment of Democrat's nominees. 

With Kavanaugh’s hearing and later induction on to the Supreme Court, America’s political climate underwent a wild polarizing shift.

Several Central Michigan University professors sat down with Central Michigan Life to discuss how they think the proceedings will effect the country. Jeremy Castle and Kyla Stepp are from the department of political science and public administration. They have backgrounds in political behavior and political law. 

Jason Taylor is from the department of economics and has made contributions to Forbes, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Detroit News.

CM Life: How do you think his actions will affect the way the supreme court is viewed? Is him raising his voice something that has happened before?

Castle: Typically, no. The most notable example otherwise was a justice nominee named Robert Bork. The reason Bork was not confirmed was due to political concerns on how far to the right he would be on the court.

Since the Bork nomination, nominated justices have typically taken the approach of not answering political questions during the nomination hearings. They give these vague nondescript answers and say “Eh, can’t answer that question.” In the original hearings Kavanaugh did this as well.

The thing that was different was the response to Christine Blasey Ford. He says this is a conspiracy being carried out by the Democrats in revenge for what happened to Hillary Clinton. That is a really conspiratorial allegation, abandoning the judicial presence of “I am neutral arbiter of the law.”

Stepp: It is unprecedented the way he acted. The partisan nature of it, blaming the Clintons and saying this is revenge. Supreme Court justice nominees in the past have always done a great job of walking that line, saying what needs to be said. 

That being said, the court seems to rebound pretty quickly… but I can see people's perception of the court dipping. 

How do you feel about the way the FBI investigation was carried out?

Stepp: I think it is unfortunate. The FBI was tasked with this job and weren’t give a long enough time or big enough scope. They talked to some of these other women who have alleged things against Kavanaugh, those women tried to give them lists of other witnesses and they never interviewed those people. Not interviewing Ford or Kavanaugh is a whole other thing. 

What do you think about Sen. Lindsey Graham's threat?

Stepp: He basically said, “We will look back on this and there will be a 'before Kavanaugh and after Kavanaugh' in how judicial nominees are treated.” That absolutely was a threat, at this point this is how it is going to be, at least according to him. 

How do you think the whole Kavanaugh process will affect political norms and political discourse going forward?

Taylor: What’s the greater tragedy, to see an innocent person whose life is ruined by untrue allegation or to see a guilty person go free? That is a really difficult question that I am sure philosophers have been talking about for thousands of years.

In the United States, I was always taught that we have this bias toward “we really don’t want to see an innocent person convicted.” That’s why we say innocent until proven guilty. 

I wish people would think about the other side. People tend to go into these camps, it would be nice if people who were on Ford’s side said “what if this didn’t happen?” 

There are four possibilities. He is lying, she is lying, he did it but doesn’t remember it or she is wrong. She is not lying, but she thinks this is who did it.

I can’t think of anything else. One of those four things is true. I really hope neither of them are lying. 

I wish people would take the other side. “What if Kavanaugh didn’t do it? Wouldn’t it be terrible to ruin this guy’s life?” For people that support Kavanaugh, “what if he did do it and is lying or doesn’t remember because he was too drunk?” 

This is the kind of soul searching I would have liked to see senators engage in. I didn’t see anybody soul searching. Pretty much every senator had made up their minds. 

I think both sides were behaving badly, though I do think the Democrats behaved more badly.

If who you believe is only a function of your politics, that seems ridiculous.

With midterms coming, how will voter turnout be affected by Republicans pushing Kavanaugh through?

Castle: Political science is much better at explaining what happened than what will happen. Particularly in a situation like this, there are so many opportunities for the narrative to change as time goes on, it’s just really hard to predict the future. 

That being said, typically, during a midterm election, the out party - opposite of the president - tends to pick up seats. 

That’s driven by a lot of things. One of those is greater enthusiasm. Very recent polls are picking up an uptick in enthusiasm around Republicans. That has something to do with the narrative that this is a judge whose life has been ruined by Democrats for political reasons. It is possible that Republican turnout will increase. 

To some extent, I would suggest an “if-then” relationship. If the vote to confirm him failed, it would seem quite likely that President Trump and the Republicans would use that to drive turnout with this cultural threat narrative that “men are under attack.” 

Stepp: Democrats are already angry and the polls show they are more likely to come out. I think it will be cumulative with everything else that has gotten Democrats amped up. I don’t think there will be anyone who says “you know I wasn’t going to vote but this Kavanaugh thing, I am definitely voting now.”