They all delivered some version of the same warning: If Brett Kavanaugh were denied a Supreme Court seat based on the allegations of sexual assault against him, his life would be damaged beyond repair. President Trump bemoaned the "trauma" inflicted on the then-judge and called for any investigation to be limited in time and scope. "What am I supposed to do? Go ahead and ruin this guy’s life based on an accusation?" asked Lindsey Graham, apparently rhetorically. In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a defiant, angry Kavanaugh fought back tears as he vowed to persevere. "My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed," he said. "This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade good people from serving our country."
On Thursday, the Court's official Republican justice made his first public appearance since his confirmation, at the annual Federalist Society convention in Washington. He received a lengthy standing ovation.
The audience is an especially friendly one: an association of aggrieved conservative lawyers, spurred on by what they claim is an "orthodox liberal ideology" that pervades the legal profession, who cloak their fondness for right-wing activism and Republican politics in the neutral-sounding language of advocating for "individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law." (In other words, the Federalist Society is composed of people who believe that conservatives are the real persecuted minority.) The organization acts as an incubator for doctrinaire judges like Kavanaugh, and the Trump White House has functionally entrusted it with judicial nominations; its executive vice president, Leonard Leo, served as an unofficial but principal adviser to Trump throughout Kavanaugh's confirmation process.
Even so, this rosy, fawning reception was a grim reminder that this is always how the story was going to end: Last week, NPR reported that Christine Blasey Ford continues to receive death threats for her grievous crime of reporting sexual assault. By the time she testified before the Judiciary Committee, she and her family had already been doxxed, harassed, and stalked. Since then, she has had to move four separate times and has been unable to resume teaching at Palo Alto University. At the moment the newest justice celebrated his one-month anniversary on the job, his accuser was literally in hiding.
Brett Kavanaugh's presence on the Supreme Court is bad for the integrity of the institution and for the interests that depend on the legal system for protection: He is an unapologetic partisan with the demeanor of a Fox News panelist and a slippery grasp on the truth. But setting aside the impact he'll have on the law—and it will be significant—the lessons of his confirmation might be the most important aspect of his legacy. This country's culture of sexual assault can only be defeated if alleged perpetrators start to face meaningful consequences. And yet once again, women watched as powerful men closed ranks around one of their own, defending him, coddling him, and then lionizing him for "surviving" the experience. A life ˆwas ruined by the allegations made against Justice Kavanaugh. It wasn't his life, though. It never is.