Dahlia Lithwick is Slate’s court reporter. Today she wrote a piece saying that she hasn’t been able to return to the Supreme Court since the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh. Even though she says she strives to maintain journalistic neutrality, she just can’t do it in this case. As she puts it, she refuses to “get over it.”
My job as a Supreme Court reporter used to be to explain and translate the institution to people locked out of its daily proceedings. I did that reasonably well for 19 years, I suppose. Years upon years of sometimes partisan, often political brawling, from Bush v. Gore to the Affordable Care Act to Obergefell—and abortion, yes. But always swathed in black robes and velvet curtains, in polite questions, and case names and at least the appearance that this was all cool science, as opposed to blood sport.
What I have not acceded to is the routinization and normalization of the unprecedented seat stolen from President Barack Obama in 2016 for no reason other than Mitch McConnell wanted it, and could. And what I have also not acceded to is the routinization and normalization of an unprecedented seating of someone who managed to himself evade the very inquiries and truth-seeking functions that justice is supposed to demand. And so, while I cannot know conclusively what happened in the summer of 1982, or at the sloppy drunk parties in the years that followed at Yale, or in the falling-down summer evenings at tony D.C. law firms, or with the gambling debts, or with the leaked Judiciary Committee emails, I can say that given Senate Republicans’ refusal to investigate, acknowledge, or even turn over more than 100,000 pages of documents relating to Kavanaugh, it is surely not my job to, in the parlance of Justice Antonin Scalia, America’s favorite grief counselor, “get over it.”
Lithwick is playing a game here which isn’t immediately obvious. She is simultaneously claiming that she doesn’t know what really “happened in the summer of 1982” and yet writing as if it’s obvious Kavanaugh is a guilty creep who somehow managed to escape justice. A bit later she compares his presence on the court to an abusive relationship and then returns to the idea she doesn’t really know what happened:
The problem with power is that Brett Kavanaugh now has a monopoly on normalization, letting bygones be bygones, and turning the page. American women also have to decide whether to get over it or to invite more recriminations. That is, for those keeping track, the very definition of an abusive relationship. You stick around hoping that he’s changed, or that he didn’t mean it, or that if you don’t anger him again, maybe it’ll all be fine when the court hears the game-changing abortion appeal this year.
I wish we could have learned what Brett Kavanaugh has actually done, said, worked on, enabled, covered for, empowered. Perhaps the next book will reveal more. Perhaps the one after that.
That’s just not how any of this works. An abusive relationship is one where abuse has clearly taken place, not one where abuse is claimed but not verified by anyone who was allegedly present. Not one where the claims may have been partially motivated by political concerns. Not one where even the woman’s parents don’t seem to believe her accusations. And not one where the most striking allegations appear to be false.
No shadow of actual doubt appears to enter Lithwick’s mind, at least nothing like it appears in her piece. The idea that Kavanaugh might actually be innocent of assault (though not of underage drinking) doesn’t seem to be on her radar. Instead, she’s holding a grudge which only makes sense if he’s guilty while simultaneously pretending she doesn’t really know.
It is not my job to decide if Brett Kavanaugh is guilty. It’s impossible for me to do so with incomplete information, and with no process for testing competing facts. But it’s certainly not my job to exonerate him because it’s good for his career, or for mine, or for the future of an independent judiciary.
Lithwick doesn’t have to excuse him, but it would be nice if she could admit the facts were a lot less favorable to Kavanaugh’s accusers than Democrats wanted them to be. Maybe there’s a reason for that. Lithwick gives that possibility a bit of lip service but no serious consideration.