I spent my time this summer working as an intern in Washington D.C. for Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska. The big event on my first day of work was the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the position of Supreme Court Justice. That evening, the other Alaskan interns and I decided to take a walk and very soon began to hear chants. We followed the noise until sat on the steps of the Supreme Court with the view of hundreds of protestors and supporters exchanging “pro-life” and “pro-choice” chants. For the whole of my internship I got to see the Kavanaugh nomination unfold and develop in its early phases.
Senator Murkowski is one of the Senate’s key swing voting members (51 Republicans and 49 Democrats). Although she identifies as a Republican, Murkowski has been known to swing to the left, more so than most of her party colleagues. For example, she voted against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and has been recently known to defend Roe v. Wade. In fact, Murkowski and her Republican colleague and friend, Susan Collins of Maine, were the swing voters that became the deciding votes on the legislation that would have otherwise defunded Planned Parenthood. However, being able to predict her vote on Kavanaugh was difficult due to her occasional tendency to be a swing-voter as well as her former approval of previous Republican Supreme Court nominees, such as Neil Gorsuch.
I was fortunate enough to not only work in her office, but personally shadow her throughout two full days; she is the only Senator that allows interns to shadow her. I watched her interact with fellow Alaskans, press crowds, as well as her colleagues. I have a strong appreciation for her respect and concern towards those around her. I admire the slow and thoughtful analytical process she uses to arrive at a decision. My great respect for Senator Murkowski plays a large role in helping me form an opinion on Kavanaugh and whether or not he has truly earned the high honor and lifelong position of Supreme Court Justice.
I organized my overarching thoughts on Kavanaugh and the role of a Supreme Court Justice by breaking down Murkowski’s own final statement she announced on the floor: “I believe Brett Kavanaugh is a good man… It just might be, in my view, he is not the right man for the court at this time.”
Piece one: “I believe Kavanaugh is a good man.” Murkowski later admitted to the press that she was “truly leaning towards supporting Judge Kavanaugh in his nomination” as she viewed his professional record.
I agree that Kavanaugh is man with impressive academic credentials as well as a solid professional record from his time as a lawyer, judge, husband and father. However, there is much more to a person than what stacks of papers convey.
Piece two: “He is not the right man for the court.” When on the floor, Murkowski proceeded to knead in the Code of Judicial Conduct Rule Section 2.1, which states that “a judge act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”
This is without a doubt an incredibly high bar to set and, quite frankly, a demanding standard for any person to live up to. Murkowski asked, “Is this too unfair a burden to place on somebody that is dealing with the worst, the most horrific allegations that go to your integrity, that go to everything you are?” Under most circumstances I would agree that this burden is particularly unfair when dealing with alleged improprieties from the distant past. These are faults from youth that yearn to be redeemed and given time to improve upon.
However, a Supreme Court Justice is unlike most government positions. This is the highest court in the country with only nine seats. What is most significant is that these seats are occupied by men and women for their lifetime. Lifetime. Most other prominent U.S. government positions require elections and are limited by terms so as to uphold the best representation of the people and thus, their best interests. Although those on the Supreme Court have their job for life, they must still uphold the best interests of the American people at heart, which is why it is critical that they honor the Code of Judicial Conduct Rule Section 2.1 and “promote public confidence.”
In my opinion, the only way a justice can promote public confidence throughout the rest of his or her life is if they have been promoting that very public confidence before they were appointed as a justice. Under these different circumstances, this includes that nominee’s young-adult life. Therefore I think that it is fair that Kavanaugh’s young life be inspected.
Piece three: “At this time.” The last phrase of Murkowski’s official statement marks a crucial point. Kavanaugh is not right for this position “at this time.” On the floor, Murkowski said, “We are at a time when many in this country have lost faith in the executive branch, not just with this administration, we saw it with the last as well, and here in Congress many in the country have given up on us.”
I do not know to what extent this statement rings true, but I do know that the current executive branch has brought an increasingly polarized attitude towards the U.S. government.
Focusing simply on the three words “promoting public confidence” is a concept that has quite frequently wavered with the current administration as the majority of the public has hesitated to instill their confidence in them, which most certainly becomes an issue with a strong personality-based rule. Murkowski adds that it is necessary “that we have public confidence in at least one of our three branches of government.” This imperative statement is why Kavanaugh’s appointment threatens the concept of “promoting public confidence” to the U.S. government as a whole.