Political Scientist Carol Nackenoff on Fraught Consequences of Kavanaugh Confirmation

Richter Professor of Political Science Carol Nackenoff

Richter Professor of Political Science Carol Nackenoff

On Saturday afternoon, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a 50-48 vote in the Senate, almost strictly along party lines. Marked by allegations of sexual assault and sustained partisan acrimony, Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings signify broader trends in American politics, argues Richter Professor of Political Science Carol Nackenoff.

"Capping more than a year of sensational sexual misconduct revelations and resignations spurred by the #MeToo movement, the hearings displayed and deepened the cultural rift between victims of sexual abuse and those who benefit from expectations of sexual power and privilege," says Nackenoff, a constitutional law expert. "It also highlights the current struggle between those who think the national government should promote equality amid diversity and those who want to dismantle that liberal state commitment."

According to Nackenoff, Kavanaugh's impassioned testimony, in which he portrayed himself as the victim of a "calculated and orchestrated political hit," could also have lasting consequences on the Court's reputation among the public.

"The determination to put a strongly identified partisan on the Court—one whose character and judicial temperament have come into question—stands to further undercut the Court’s legitimacy."

She also believes that the deeply political confirmation battle will continue to undermine public trust in Congress and the ability of its members to work across the aisle.

"The process that led to Kavanaugh’s confirmation is likely to further erode public perceptions of the Senate," she says, "and lay bare the raw partisan polarization affecting not just Congress but increasingly, the Court." 

Nackenoff teaches American politics, constitutional law, environmental politics, and political theory at Swarthmore. She is the author of Oxford Bibliographies Online Guide to the Supreme Court and The Fictional Republic: Horatio Alger and American Political Discourse (Oxford University Press, 1994). Her piece on "Sexual Harassment Trajectories: Limits of (Current) Law and of the Administrative State" is forthcoming in the Journal of Women and Public Policy