GW Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explains why Brett Kavanaugh’s defiant responses to questioning by senators about his conduct while drinking ignore common knowledge about the effects of alcohol and illustrate the toxic combination of drinking culture and young men who think their actions have no consequences.
GW Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan writes a letter that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh could have written (but didn’t) in response to allegations that he sexually assaulted and attempted to rape a 15-year-old girl when he was a 17-year-old high school student. Using a fictional letter as a rhetorical device, Buchanan points out that Kavanaugh could have acknowledged that he, like anyone who has ever drunk to excess, does not recall exactly what he did or did not do while drunk, particularly on the night in question, but instead, Kavanaugh flatly denied that the allegations could be true. Buchanan argues that Kavanaugh’s response to the allegations demonstrates that he does not belong on the US Supreme Court.
John W. Dean, former White House counsel to President Richard Nixon, shares the statement he made to the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 7, 2018, during the confirmation hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Dean also argues that Judge Kavanaugh’s denials of lying under oath in his earlier 2004 and 2006 confirmation proceedings, and the fact that he must now lie under oath again to get confirmed to the Supreme Court, have disqualified him for the job.
In this second part of a series of columns, GW law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan considers how the United States, and indeed the world, would shift substantially to the right with a Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. Buchanan explains not only what might change, but how we can expect that change to come about, as well.
Alan Brownstein, an emeritus law professor at UC Davis Law, comments critically on the sole opinion—a dissent—US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has written about the Second Amendment. Brownstein points out two critical fallacies of Judge Kavanaugh’s position with respect to Second Amendment challenges to gun regulations articulated in that dissenting opinion.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recently publicized memorandum Brett Kavanaugh wrote in 1998 in the course of his work for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, who was conducting the investigation of President Bill Clinton. Dorf points out that the sexually explicit questions Kavanaugh proposed in his memo should have been ruled inadmissible under applicable procedural rules. Inspired by Kavanaugh’s own line of questioning, Dorf concludes by proposing a question that he calls upon a senator to ask Judge Kavanaugh during his nomination hearing.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar explains why the norm of not asking a Supreme Court nominee about his specific views about specific cases does not make sense and renders the hearing unhelpful in evaluating him as a potential justice. Amar explains the distinction between promising to rule in a certain way and predicting how one might rule, and he debunks some of the reasons often given for the norm of not asking (or answering) these types of questions during the confirmation hearing.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf describes why he chose not to join the 72 other former law clerks of Justice Anthony Kennedy who signed a letter urging the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Dorf explains that the letter is at best misleading, and he argues that while a norm of deference may be preferable, that norm no longer exists, and deference to the president’s choice in this age of extreme polarization would amount to unilateral Democratic disarmament.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on two decisions from the US Supreme Court’s 2017–18 term in which the Court notably overruled two longstanding constitutional precedents by 5–4 votes. Amar discusses the doctrine of horizontal stare decisis—the Court’s respect for its prior rulings—and focuses on three questions in particular these two cases present.
Justia editor and attorney Sarah Andropoulos comments on an advisory opinion issued last year by the American Bar Association on the propriety of judges conducting internet research on issues raised by cases pending before them. Andropoulos points out that while the advisory opinion does provide guidance as to when such research is permissible, it is rooted in the nebulous concept of judicial notice, and thus leaves many questions unanswered.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar argues that while Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the US Supreme Court will change the institution, it may not result in a significant shift to the right on some hot-button issues, as many anticipate. Amar explains that the greatest casualty of Justice Kennedy’s retirement might be electoral reform—not reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, or affirmative action.
GW Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan argues that the pro-business, anti-union expressed during oral argument and in the majority opinion in Janus v. AFSCME, written by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by the other conservative justices including Justice Anthony Kennedy, epitomizes both Kennedy’s right-wing fundamentalism and the direction in which the Court would have continued to move even if he had chosen not to retire. Buchanan points out that the trend among the conservative justices is to insulate conservatives—especially Christian Republicans—from having to be in any way connected to anything with which they disagree, such as collective bargaining, sexual liberation, or provision of contraception.
Touro Law professor Rodger D. Citron comments on a less-discussed aspect of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy’s jurisprudence: civil procedure. As Citron explains, Justice Kennedy did not author many civil procedure opinions, but the ones he did write were decidedly pro-business—limiting access to courts, capping punitive damages, and restricting personal jurisdiction in a personal injury context.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the suggestion that liberals who are distressed about the impending era of reactionary US Supreme Court jurisprudence should focus efforts on change at the level of state supreme courts. Without discouraging such efforts, Dorf explains why this approach faces significant obstacles, and he argues that anyone concerned about the direction of the Court should not restrict their political activities to judicial elections but engage in organized opposition on multiple fronts.
GW law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan comments on Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement that he is retiring from the Supreme Court and the legacy he leaves. Buchanan laments that Justice Kennedy’s last term on the bench can only be described as tragedy, as he joined the conservative 5–4 majority on critical cases that Buchanan predicts will have a lasting harmful effect on individuals across the country and the world.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar laments the present state of the federal judiciary system, recently illustrated by Senator Chuck Grassley's call to conservative Supreme Court justices to retire promptly. Amar explains why the proposal of term limits for Supreme Court justices would address some of the concerns of partisanship and would not present issues of judicial independence or due process.
Marci A. Hamilton—one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Practice and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania—analogizes Marvel’s blockbuster Avengers movie with the far more serious (and real) fight for justice for sexual assault victims. Hamilton explains in terms understandable to any moviegoer why statutes of limitations on sexual abuse claims allow the “bad guys” to win.
Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on an exchange during the confirmation hearing of Wendy Vitter, whom President Trump has nominated for a federal district court judgeship, in which Vitter declined to answer whether she thought Brown v. Board of Education was rightly decided. Dorf points out that Vitter’s refusal to answer that question may have been an attempt to avoid further scrutiny about her views about abortion but also served to inadvertently acknowledge what conservatives routinely deny—that a judge’s “personal, religious, and political” views necessarily interact with the legal materials.
Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf writes a tribute to renowned Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, who passed away last week. Dorf, who served as law clerk to Judge Reinhardt, extols the late judge’s principled commitment to serving justice without breaking rules and his unusual ability to bring both empathy and reason to everything he did.
Guest columnist Barry Winograd—an arbitrator and mediator, and lecturer at Berkeley Law—concludes his two-part series of columns on the conflict between President Donald Trump and Stephanie Clifford, the adult film actress known as Stormy Daniels. Winograd argues that both parties would benefit from settling their claims against the other so they can minimize disruption to their personal and professional futures.