Kavanaugh, Raised in a Test Tube for the High Court

on September 5, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty Images North America

For all the talk about Kavanaugh’s judicial extremism, what stands out to me most about him is that he was essentially raised in a test tube for the purposes of serving on the Supreme Court. Of course, these two facts are not exclusive of each other. They are more the means (test tube incubated Justice) and the end (made to spec conservative maximalist Justice). But he is uniquely this way. He was born and bred in Republican DC. He was given the right education. He has been guided from his twenties through a cursus honorum of titles, clerkships, offices, Republican political appointments, judgeships and more.

Kavanaugh’s extensive work on the Starr investigation is something of an embarrassment today because the Starr investigation was such a notoriously corrupt operation. It also sounds uncomfortable echoes to the present. But the Starr operation hired a huge number of young Republican stars like Kavanaugh. It was part of the course of honors.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this of course. All political movements will try to groom their most talented adherents into future leaders. We know this is particularly the case not only on the right but on the judicial right, where the Federalist Society and its allied organizations have created a pipeline of conservative judicial ideologues like Kavanaugh for the federal bench. What stands out to me, however, is that Kavanaugh is one of the first (though there’s no bright line) to come up entirely within that world.

Justices like Scalia and Thomas largely predate this era in conservative jurisprudence. The Federalist Society was formed in 1982. The Heritage Foundation in 1973. Justice Alito (68) and Roberts (63) both overlap with this era but much of their careers predate it. At least among Republican-appointees, Kavanaugh is the first to come up entirely in that world. He was 8 when Heritage was formed, 17 when The Federalist Society was organized. He’s the creature that this complex and well-funded incubation apparatus which was designed to create him. And here he is.

I do not want to suggest that the rarefied world of hot shot legal academics and those with an interest in rising in the federal judiciary is only a conservative phenomena. It’s not. In some ways we’ve seen this in one of the most demoralizing aspects of this process: top progressive or liberal leaning judges or legal academics praising Kavanaugh for being a good family man or once helping an injured duck make it across a highway. At some level many of these people are simply living in a different world from the rest of us. There’s a dispiriting disconnect between the values and principles that are so important to many of us and which we look to these men and women to carry into the work of jurisprudence and how they carry themselves in a process like this.

Again, this is what I take away from this whole process: how delicate a flower Kavanaugh seems to be, like a judicial bubble boy who’s only known this one world, only been prepared for this one assignment, with all the building blocks leading up this one moment.

Masthead Masthead
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