Brett Kavanaugh has ‘the Force’ with him, for now

With his friendly face and charming family, Judge Brett Kavanaugh appears to offer President Donald Trump the good looks right out of “central casting” that our first reality-show president said he was seeking in a nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

But in a confirmation process that is expected to be as contentious as “Star Wars,” civil rights and abortion rights groups see in Kavanaugh a candidate without much Luke Skywalker in him — and a lot of Darth Vader.

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May the Force be with them, I say. They’ll need it. In the expected multimillion dollar battle of TV ads and spin doctors over Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the Empire led by President Trump still has the edge, unless some big surprises turn up.

Such was the plot twist that sunk the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Robert Bork’s nomination in 1987. After shunning the usual “murder board” rehearsals that help nominees to prepare for their Senate Judiciary Committee interrogation, Bork talked himself into controversial positions that brought the curtain down on his chances — and added “borking” to dictionaries to describe the scuttling of nominees through vilification and defamation.

Judge Clarence Thomas prepared himself better for rough questioning and needed it when allegations of sexual misconduct were brought up by former aide, Anita Hill. He survived and was narrowly confirmed, but the days when Supreme Court confirmations were quiet, low-key affairs were over.

Instead, opposition researchers are poring over Kavanaugh’s long paper trail — he has written about 300 opinions, including important decisions on guns, abortion and regulation — and hoping to turn up enough evidence to sink his nomination or, at least, stall it as midterm elections approach in November.

So far, they have found not much to like.

“Brett Kavanaugh is a dangerous ideologue whose extreme views on civil rights would solidify a far right majority on the Supreme Court,” said a statement by the 109-year-old NAACP, which also opposed Kavanaugh’s confirmation to his current position as a judge on the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“In his 12 years on the bench,” the organization says now, “he has proven us correct.”

“In nominating Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump has followed through on his threat to nominate a justice who would undermine LGBTQ equality, women’s reproductive rights and affordable healthcare,” said President Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign.

“Brett Kavanaugh is a direct threat to our civil and human rights and is unfit to serve on our nation’s highest court,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in a statement. “Like President Trump, he would protect the rights of the wealthy and powerful over the rights of all — a fact verified by his prominence on Trump’s vaunted short list of potential nominees.”

Nothing personal, you understand. This fight is strictly business as the left presses Democratic senators to vigorously oppose this nomination. As much as he is vilified on the left, Kavanaugh is praised on the right. If the Democrats can’t beat the Senate’s Republican majority, at least they’re trying to stall the nomination, a senatorial version of “freezing the ball” in the NBA, as the Dems try to build support for the left in upcoming elections.

Kavanaugh’s positions in favor of robust executive power and his history in partisan political battles, including independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigations into President Bill Clinton, are expected to take center stage in the coming battle.

But his roll-back-the-clock positions on civil rights and gender equality issues, have special significance in these polarized time. They could help to provoke the sort of turnout among women and African-American voters, in particular, that Hillary Clinton failed to produce in key states in 2016, despite winning the popular vote.

It’s about time, say their allies. A big reason why Democrats have lost Congress, the White House and most state governments is their failure to organize grassroots around energizing social issues as much as the right has done.

Democratic voters have not prized Supreme Court appointments nearly as much as Republicans have in the decades since President Ronald Reagan’s era, when abortion rights and the religious right rose as contentious political forces.

Now stunned by Kennedy’s unexpected departure, although an 81-year-old man’s retirement shouldn’t be all that surprising, the Dems hope the fight over his seat will awaken apathetic voters on the left. The more of a menace Kavanaugh appears to be, the better Democrats see their chances.

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That’s a battle scene that the rising star does not appear to relish, but he’s ready for it. For now, politically speaking, the Force is with him. But there are more episodes to come.

Email Clarence Page at cpagechicagotribune.com.