TORONTO - The ongoing debate in the USA concerning the Senate confirmation of Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh has taken on a salacious yet decidedly moralistic turn. Commentators are using language that had almost passed into disuse.
Some of that debate has conjured up moral issues as they pertain to character and a national ethos. It is mildly surprising given that, on the surface at least, American society is, by and large, a tolerant, “anything goes environment”.
Not unlike the ancient Roman Republic on which the USA modelled itself. Even there, then, as now in the USA, a collective sense
of what was/is acceptable surfaced (es) “to keep people honest”.
Julius Caesar, who was reputed by his critics to be “every woman’s husband and every man’s wife”, divorced his own wife Pompea, justifying the decision with a quote made famous by Shakespeare: “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion”.
She had attended a wild party hosted by one of his lieutenants, a Claudius Pulcher (the good-looking one), who had a reputation of organizing over-the-top orgies. She “smoked but didn’t inhale”, so to speak. Like President Clinton’s sortie into marijuana use, so to speak.
But, some people, because of the o.ce they hold or aspire to hold, must be held to a higher standard than mere mortals. The closer one is to the office-holder, the more stringent the demand.
By all accounts, Judge Kavanaugh is a competent enough professional. He has certainly conducted himself that way under grilling from Senators. He may even be the best candidate available. President Trump certainly thinks so. Kavanaugh will be a Supreme Court Judge for the rest of his life, if confirmed.
How will he adjudicate? What non-law-related experiences will influence his thought process in an environment that today are more exacting than those in which he matured as an individual and a professional?
The confirmation process has turned out to be more of a challenge than initially thought. It has become very personal. A former acquaintance of his, from 36 years ago - when she was 15 and he 17 years of age – alleged he had committed sexual assault on her. She, now a married University professor, has passed a lie-detector test on the allegation.
Should he be disqualified? His supporters say that the only thing he is guilty of is being a typical teenager – unsophisticated at the art of seduction, but impatient and testosterone heavy and “striking out”. In other words, the old “boys will be boys” defense; he didn’t know any better then. At least there is a debate.
Two current “Caesars” are unfazed by this. They have invoked the same “that was then this is now” defense. As an “older boy”, Donald Trump, a misogynist, did worse than Kavanaugh and got himself elected President. Prime Minister Trudeau, accused of groping, survived that incident (and reputed others) to get to where he is. He holds some of his caucus colleagues to a higher standard.
Former MP and Cabinet Minister Vic Toews made it to the bench in Manitoba despite his zipper problems with a former (youthful) babysitter – whom he later married.
Maybe Canadians are more tolerant of who aspires to the Bench. They shouldn’t be is the suggestion coming out of the American Senate Judiciary Committee. Justices of the Supreme Court are not like politicians. They must be above reproach.
Current Supreme Court justice, Russell Brown, must be happy he wasn’t subjected to the same scrutiny when Stephen Harper appointed him. Justice Brown had carelessly written how he could not imagine a country run by the likes of Joe Volpe or Justin Trudeau.
I have never had interactions with him, but, I am flattered that expressing dislike for me proved to be a tipping point in his favour with the then Prime Minister.
I am willing to wager that some sharp lawyers are combing the records to see if he has recused himself from deliberating on any cases contesting legislation involving Justin Trudeau’s government. If he hasn’t, they’ll keep a watchful eye in the future.
Americans, their partisanship aside, want to be clear how Judge Kavanaugh will lean on issues touching upon sexual behaviour, empowerment of women, gender issues and so on. Or how often he will have to recuse himself.