In an event without precedent in the history of Supreme Court confirmation hearings, nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh gave a televised interview to refute sexual assault allegations dating back to his high school years. (Video here; transcript here.) He appeared on Fox News Monday night, seated alongside his wife, Ashley Estes Kavanaugh.
The substance of Kavanaugh’s comments was nothing new. The nominee repeated over and over what he had already said in previously released statements: he never sexually assaulted anyone, “in high school or otherwise” (recent allegations of sexual misconduct involve his college years); he respects women; he just wants a fair process.
Ashley Kavanaugh offered a few brief comments in support of her husband. “He’s decent, he’s kind, he’s good,” she insisted. “I know his heart. This is not consistent with—with Brett.”
The only new information came when Kavanaugh defended himself by saying, “I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter.” This prompted the interviewer, Fox News reporter Martha MacCallum, to ask, “So you’re saying that through all these years that are in question, you were a virgin?” “That’s correct,” responded Kavanaugh.
Never been a particularly smooth operator when under the lights, Kavanaugh was clearly uncomfortable throughout the interview. He was stiff. He kept circling back to his talking points, often repeating them verbatim.
No Supreme Court nominee has ever done a press interview during the nomination process, never mind going on national television in prime time. Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia were on the cover of People magazine in 1991, but this was only after he was confirmed to the Court, and the magazine piece was an account of the confirmation experience by Virginia Thomas because, as she explained, “I want to tell people about what we went through, even if Clarence can’t.”
A key question is whether the American people are watching another norm falling. Might we see future nominees engaging with the media to bolster their case for confirmation? Although it’s hard to imagine, much of what we’re seeing in public life recently was hard to imagine not so long ago.
Christopher W. Schmidt is a Chicago-Kent Faculty Member and Co-Director of ISCOTUS.