When I was a freshman at Canisius College many moons ago (it was 1966), I was a political science major. I was drawn to the subject by President Kennedy. The world of politics seemed fascinating.
In the fall of that year, as the College has done for many years, a major figure in government came to speak at the school, Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. Justice Brennan was a Democrat, but he had been named to the Court by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. He was appointed in October of that year, a month before the presidential election. It was a recess appointment (the Senate was not in session) and he was confirmed in 1957. My, how things have changed.
Brennan became known as a prominent liberal on the Court, although that’s probably not what Eisenhower expected when he appointed him.
Justice Brennan’s main speech at Canisius was in the evening, but earlier that afternoon he spoke in a student lounge. There were maybe 30 or 40 people there, so it was kind of neat – up close and personal. I don’t remember much of what Brennan said that day, but one point has stayed planted in my memory.
He made a comment about how the Court arrives at its decisions, noting (tongue in cheek, I later figured out) that of course, the Supreme Court does not make decisions involving politics. He paused briefly, waiting for some response from his audience. Being either in awe of his presence or maybe just being unfamiliar with how things really worked, no one reacted. He chuckled a bit at the lack of reaction, and then just went on.
The truth is, of course, that the Supreme Court does at least sometimes make political decisions, although the Justices do their best not to make it obvious. The best example of a political decision was in 2000, when the Supreme Court elected George W. Bush president by a five to four vote.
But now we have a situation, perhaps (?), probably (?), where a nominee for the Court has displayed the most obvious and specific example of politics that a Supreme Court nominee has ever displayed. Brett Kavanaugh’s aggressive political attack on Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and others in the party who are not part of the confirmation decision was the most outlandish public example of judicial politics that the country has ever seen.
“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.” So said the judge. Donald Trump couldn’t have said it any better himself. How much of that big chip on Kavanaugh’s shoulder would he carry into the deliberations of the Supreme Court?
The allegations leveled against Kavanaugh by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, where she stated that she had been sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were both teenagers, are extremely serious matters. Many found Dr. Ford much more convincing that Judge Kavanaugh. Whether a FBI investigation brings any clarity to the matter remains to be seen.
But there are also very serious issues with this nominee that transcend the assault question. There are reasons to doubt Kavanaugh’s truthfulness under oath about issues like his involvement in the leaks of the Starr investigation of the Clintons in the 1990’s and his possible access to and use of stolen information involving court nominees when he worked in the Bush administration prior to his judicial appointment in 2006.
And then there is the question of judicial temperament. He showed in his testimony last week a lack of a rational and balanced temperament. He was unhinged. He was unprofessional. He was apparently displaying characteristics that until last Thursday were not widely known.
Did you know that he likes beer? Did you know that he loves beer? Did you know that he likes to drink lots of beer? Did you know that Bud Light just signed him up for some commercials – “dilly, dilly?” Okay, I made up the part about the commercials.
Part of the cover provided by some of his supporters, including Trump, is that even if the allegations were true, they occurred over 30 years ago, so why are they relevant to this life-time appointment? Why didn’t Dr. Ford come forward back then?
Which segues nicely into a similar issue, the activity of some Catholic priests and the Church’s handling of such matters. Those issues pre-date the Kavanaugh nomination, and will undoubtedly continue long after the issue of the Court appointment is resolved, one way or another.
Just this week the Buffalo News reported about another instance where the hierarchy of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese shuffled around a priest who engaged in sexual abuse with at least one child with whom he came in contact. The Diocese evidently did not report any abuse to legal authorities; they just covered it up by reassigning the priest from parish to parish.
The story notes the difficult issues that the parents of a certain child dealt with concerning that priest and their child. The parents and child lived quietly with the horrible experience for decades because the Church had such an overriding influence on their lives.
As the stories about sexual abuse among certain clergy continue to cascade locally, nationally and internationally, the Church is struggling mightily to deal with these matters. The leaders of the Church are not doing very well with that.
We have seen numerous reports in the media about why victims of sexual abuse did not come out and raise the issues when they occurred. Consistently the answer is that the shame, or fear, or lack of support has kept people quiet for very long periods of time. The issue is the same whether the accused is a politician, a judge, a priest, or an entertainer.
Things are slowly changing, but not without some resistance. Donald Trump, who has a number of alleged victims of sexual assault to personally contend with, is pleased with Brett Kavanaugh’s self-defense. Republicans in the Senate have demonstrated pretty clearly where they stood on the question of the assault that was discussed at last week’s hearing.
The Catholic Church hierarchy begs for forgiveness for their past actions while they prepare large checks to try to settle up for the damage that has occurred. But when will they ever tell us that, going forward, any evidence of sexual abuse by clergy will be reported immediately to the police for investigation and possible prosecution. In-house discipline hasn’t work and isn’t right. Sending a predator away for some rehab is not sufficient when a crime may have been committed.
The Republicans seem happy to settle their dilemma by promoting Judge Kavanaugh to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. Talk about a reassignment!
How ironic it is that the Republicans and the Buffalo Catholic Church have sought out the same way of dealing with the issues they face – having the FBI, or in the case of the Buffalo Diocese, a former FBI agent, involved in looking into, controlling, managing – choose your own verb – the problems that are threatening their institutions.
Who knows whether such investigative involvement will resolve anything or simply serve as a vehicle for covering up a nasty issue that is dominating public attention? Such work can’t hurt, but whether it helps is questionable.
Cover-ups, it is frequently noted, are often worse than the crime. We’re about to find out if that’s true in these cases.