Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has been painted as a champion of women—a devoted coach of his young daughter’s basketball team, a loving friend (even, amazingly, to women), and a man who makes a point to hire women as his clerks. None of this matters, of course, when his judicial decisions have been decidedly antithetical to most women’s interests, from ruling against an undocumented teenager seeking an abortion to siding consistently with large corporations over the rights of workers. Late Wednesday evening, Kavanaugh was grilled by Democratic Senators Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono on the gap between how he treats the women he knows and what his confirmation would mean for the millions of women he doesn’t.
Senator Hirono of Hawaii asked Kavanaugh about his relationship with his former boss, Judge Alex Kozinski, for whom he clerked in the early 1990s. Last December—after more than a dozen women, including some of his former clerks, came forward and accused Kozinski of sexual harassment and in the midst of a judicial investigation over the allegations—the judge abruptly resigned.
Calling Kozinski’s behavior an “open secret,” Hirono then asked if Kavanaugh ever witnessed or heard allegations of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment by Kozinski.
Kavanaugh said no, a claim he has made before. (As Irin Carmon reported for The Cut, even people who didn’t clerk for Kozinski had heard of the judge’s sleazy behavior: “People said things like, ‘You don’t want to clerk for Kozinski around women, he’s creepy around women.’ If [Kavanaugh] says he never heard anything, that’s where I raise my eyebrows. Why am I hearing this stuff? I’m nobody. I wasn’t a Kozinski clerk, I didn’t have that much contact with him. I don’t want to call a future Supreme Court justice a liar. But it strikes me as the kind of thing that requires asking a few more questions.”)
Later in the evening, Senator Harris had a pointed exchange with Kavanaugh about abortion rights, asking him, “Can you think of any laws that give the government the power to make decisions about the male body?”
“Uh, I’m happy to answer a more specific question,” Kavanaugh replied.
“Male versus female,” Harris said.
“There are, uh, medical procedures?” Kavanaugh said.
She asked him her question again.
“I’m not thinking of any right now, Senator,” Kavanaugh said.
Earlier in the day, Kavanaugh was pressed on his views of Roe v. Wade by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, saying only vaguely, “As a general proposition, I understand the importance of the precedent set forth in Roe v. Wade.” This, of course, is not particularly reassuring. (And on Thursday, a leaked email written by Kavanaugh in March 2003 when he was a White House lawyer in the Bush administration made clear his views on what exactly “settled precedent” means. In it, he referred to Roe as a law that the “Court can always overrule.”)
He then defended his decision last year to try to block an undocumented teenager from having an abortion, saying he took her situation into account. “I tried to recognize the real-world effects on her,” he said, despite ignoring her wishes. “I said consider the circumstances. She’s a 17-year-old, by herself, in a foreign country. In a facility where she’s detained. And she has no one to talk to. And she’s pregnant. Now that is a difficult situation.”