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Former Justice John Paul Stevens Says Kavanaugh Is Not Fit for Supreme Court

Former Justice John Paul Stevens Says Kavanaugh Is Not Fit for Supreme Court

In an unusual rebuke from a former member of the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens said on Thursday that Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh was not qualified to sit on the court.

Justice Stevens said he came to the conclusion reluctantly, changing his mind about Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination after the second round of the judge’s confirmation hearings last week. Judge Kavanaugh’s statements at those hearings, Justice Stevens said, revealed prejudices that would make it impossible for him to do the court’s work, a point he said had been made by prominent commentators.

“They suggest that he has demonstrated a potential bias involving enough potential litigants before the court that he would not be able to perform his full responsibilities,” Justice Stevens said in remarks to retirees in Boca Raton, Fla. “And I think there is merit in that criticism and that the senators should really pay attention to it.”

“For the good of the court,” he said, “it’s not healthy to get a new justice that can only do a part-time job.”

At the hearing last week, Judge Kavanaugh used starkly partisan language to describe the accusations against him.

“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit,” he said, “fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”

Justice Stevens is 98, and he retired from the Supreme Court in 2010. He was appointed in 1975 by President Gerald R. Ford, a Republican, but he voted with the court’s liberal wing for much of his tenure.

Justice Stevens said he had admired Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial work and had written positively about it in one of his books, “Six Amendments,” which proposed a number of changes to the Constitution. One concerned the Citizens United campaign finance case, in which Justice Stevens had dissented.

In the book, Justice Stevens praised a decision from Judge Kavanaugh. Writing for a three-judge panel of the Federal District Court in Washington, Judge Kavanaugh ruled two foreign citizens living in the United States on temporary work visas could not spend money to call for the election of American politicians.

Justice Stevens said he thought that decision was sound. “As a matter of fact, I put his picture in the book to illustrate my admiration for it,” Justice Stevens said. “At that time, I thought he had definitely the qualifications to sit on the Supreme Court and should be confirmed if he was ever selected.”

“I’ve changed my views for reasons that have really no relationship to his intellectual ability or his record as a federal judge,” Justice Stevens said. “He’s a fine federal judge, and he should have been confirmed when he was nominated.”

“But I think that his performance during the hearings caused me to change my mind,” Justice Stevens said, noting that prominent law professors, including Laurence H. Tribe, a law professor at Harvard, were also critical of Judge Kavanaugh’s statements.

Justice Stevens rejected comparisons to the experience of Justice Clarence Thomas, who endured a bruising confirmation hearing in 1991 after being accused of sexual harassment. “There’s nothing that Clarence did in the hearings that disqualified him from sitting in cases after he came on the court,” Justice Stevens said.

Justice Stevens said he disagreed with Justice Thomas in most important cases but found him to be “a decent and likable person.”

“You cannot help but like Clarence Thomas,” Justice Stevens said, “which I don’t think necessarily would be true of this particular nominee.”

 

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