Commentary— Judge Kavanaugh: Getting Away With Privilege

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s account of his high school years to the Senate Judiciary Committee—a litany of sports, academics, religion and public service — sounded a lot like my own high school yearbook entry.

That is not surprising. We are close in age, both grew up suburban Irish Catholics who attended all-boys Jesuit high schools that professed to train tomorrow’s leaders.

We are both lawyers, both like beer.

What is surprising is that Judge Kavanaugh’s Senate description did not at all sound like his own yearbook entry.

By 1981, B.C. High was taking more suburban boys like me, but still thought of itself as providing ambitious but less privileged Catholic boys from Dorchester (like my father, class of ’52) the running start they needed to move up in the world. The school also took the Jesuit motto, “a man for others”, seriously: constantly reminding us that the privileges bestowed upon us obligated us to help those less fortunate.

Our entries in B.C. High’s yearbook, the Renaissance, reflected those aspirations to upward mobility as well as the commitment to social justice. They were not the whole truth (I liked beer). But they were about how we, and the school, wanted our high school years to be remembered as we grew into our communities, families and careers.

Brett Michael Kavanaugh’s entry in the Georgetown Prep ’83 Cupola was different.

Three lines of sports preceded twelve lines boasting of excessive drinking and sexual conquest. This Cupola Kavanaugh, although different from the Senate Committee Kavanaugh, very much resembles the Brett Kavanaugh described by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also resembles descriptions by two other women, his college roommate, and a growing chorus of Yale classmates.

Had anyone tried to submit an entry like Cupola Kavanaugh’s to the Renaissance, he would have spent the rest of his afternoons in JUG (Judgment Under God), copying sections of the B.C. High handbook. He would have been told that boasts of drinking and sexual conquest would have broken school rules and dishonored the aspiration of “a man for others.”

He would have been told that the boasting would have limited his upward mobility.

I spent enough time in JUG to find Cupola Kavanaugh’s getting away with breaking so many rules so openly shocking. But that was exactly the point: Kavanaugh did not need upward mobility, because he and the others in his hyper-privileged Washington DC circles were already up. He crafted his entry to demonstrate that he was so privileged that the rules that applied to the rest of us did not apply to him.

No one at Georgetown Prep corrected Cupola Kavanaugh, because he was right.

Committee Kavanaugh modelled this extreme privilege last Thursday. He belligerently denied being a belligerent drunk. He professed unending respect for women before treating Senator Amy Klobuchar with outrageous disrespect. Most audaciously, Committee Kavanaugh dismissed Cupola Kavanaugh’s account of his high school years with explanations that obliterated credulity.

Committee Kavanaugh knew he could get away with blatantly lying to the Senate, just as he got away with his yearbook entry. The eleven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were a “jury of his peers”— all wealthy white men. They are smart enough to know when someone is blatantly lying to them, but hyper-privileged enough to believe they can get away with ignoring the lies. So they unanimously advanced the nomination to the full Senate.

The Senate’s 51 Republicans are also Judge Kavanaugh’s peers in privilege. The hasty and limited FBI investigation may produce more evidence that Judge Kavanaugh really was the person he described himself as in his high school yearbook. But the evidence so far has not influenced Republican Senators’ positions.

All that stands before Judge Kavanaugh and a lifetime appointment to our highest court is the rest of us. We are subject to rules that the hyper-privileged are not, but we do get to vote, and there are more of us. A growing mass of voters are calling their Senators—especially Senators professing support for women’s rights issues threatened by Judge Kavanaugh’s history on the bench and at parties—to say they believe Dr. Ford, Cupola Kavanaugh and all the others.

If we keep calling, the rules may apply to the Senate and Judge Kavanaugh this time.

Human rights lawyer Brian Concannon Jr. (B.C. High 1981, St. Ignatius Award Winner) directs the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.