In a non-response to a question from Senator Mazie Keiko Hirono of Hawaii, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said, “I got into Yale Law School. That’s the number one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.”
If this statement reflects what he believes, then Brett Kavanaugh is not qualified to be on the Supreme Court. A Supreme Court justice has to recognize that there are many smart, hard-working people who do not get to go to Yale. Kavanaugh probably did study hard and workouts at Tobin’s House must have been strenuous, but it is stunning that he would claim that he went to Yale with “no connections.”
Kavanaugh should know that many intelligent, industrious people do not have two parents who are lawyers – one a Circuit Court Judge – and a grandfather who went to Yale. Most cannot afford a private high school where the tuition is $60,280 a year. Many high school campuses are not 93 acres. None of the public high schools in my area have an 11-lane swimming pool with a diving area. Kavanaugh may be surprised to learn that not all high schools have their own nine-hole golf course. (Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, by the way, is also a Georgetown Prep graduate, class of 1985, so perhaps we could argue that some other high school could be represented on the Supreme Court.)
Kavanaugh’s experience at an elite prep school, an elite college and an elite law school is not normal. Some teenagers cannot go to workouts after school, because they have to go to work after school to help their family pay the bills. Many do not have beach houses. Most never belong to a fraternity. When Kavanaugh said of Christine Blasey Ford, “She and I did not travel in the same social circles,” was it a defense or an insult?
Wealth and privilege do not exclude someone from the Supreme Court, but not recognizing the advantages one has been given should be disqualifying. Kavanaugh kept saying, “I worked my tail off.” Judges can be proud of their education, but they have to understand that what they have been given is not available to most.
“Wealth and privilege do not exclude someone from the Supreme Court, but not recognizing the advantages one has been given should be disqualifying.”
Some privileged people desperately want to believe that they deserve everything they have. Kavanaugh gives the impression that he feels entitled. He expresses anger more easily than sympathy. Kavanaugh’s demeanor suggests that he would find it hard to empathize with a pregnant teenager, a homeless veteran or a refugee from El Salvador.
Judges have to listen carefully to victims of systems that have profited the judges. Interpreting the law is an act of imagination as well as reason. Good judges see beyond their own perspectives and life experience.
Justices have to empathize with victims of sexual assault, partner violence and other misogynistic behavior. Justices have to care about girls and women facing unwanted pregnancies. Justices cannot make judgments that will affect the economically disadvantaged without understanding the terrible costs of poverty.
The best judges imagine what it is like for people of color afraid to walk in a white neighborhood, gay people unwelcomed in certain businesses and college students clinging to DACA. The best judges see faces as well as cases.
Good lawyers can grow up in a society that offers preference to rich white men, but the privileged have to recognize their privilege. On Sept. 7, during the first round of his confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh said the court should not be a partisan body. He was right. Judges cannot favor the wealthy over the vulnerable.
The best of those born to privilege recognize their privilege as a gift to be shared. President Trump needs to find a nominee who can imagine what life is like for those who know that no matter how smart they are or how hard they work they will never go to Yale. Entitled people have enough representation on the Supreme Court.