The ACLU Usually Stays Neutral on Judicial Nominees, but It Just Came Out Against Brett Kavanaugh

"We oppose him in light of the credible allegations of sexual assault against him."


Joshua Roberts/REUTERS/Newscom

The American Civil Liberties Union has decided to oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, citing the allegations of sexual misconduct against the embattled judge.

This is an unusual step for the ACLU, which almost never takes a position on judicial nominations. In its 98-year history, the civil liberties organization's national board has only come out against a specific Supreme Court candidate in four cases.

"As a nonpartisan organization, the ACLU does not oppose Judge Kavanaugh based on predictions about how he would vote as a Justice," explains ACLU President Susan Herman in a statement. "We oppose him in light of the credible allegations of sexual assault against him."

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Friday to advance Kavanaugh's nomination with the understanding that the FBI would conduct a limited investigation of the claims made by Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor who has accused Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her at a high school party 35 years ago. Kavanaugh has emphatically denied the accusation.

As of yet, there is no evidence that corroborates Ford's story, and other alleged attendees of the party have failed to back up her account. But Kavanaugh's evasive and misleading statements about his teenage drinking have made it easier to believe that he is hiding something.

Thus I can understand why the ACLU would make an exception in this case—there is good reason to be concerned about Kavanaugh's character, though absent additional information it is impossible to say with any certainty what actually happened at that party 35 years ago. (Kavanaugh is also accused of other instances of sexual misconduct in his high school and college years, but these allegations are more flawed than Ford's.)

But it would be easier to accept the ACLU's anti-Kavanaugh stance as a one-off move if the organization had not done so much recently that makes it appear like it's mutating into a generic progressive organization. The ACLU's Twitter feed recently seemed to endorse a catcalling ban, and the group's Michigan chapter sent a letter to Walmart imploring the company to stop selling Redskins merchandise. (The letter heavily implied that continuing to stock Redskins gear was contributing to a hostile educational environment in a local school, and thus possibly violating the law.) Former board member Wendy Kaminer has expressed serious concerns that the ACLU is backpedaling on some of its foundational free speech commitments in cases where the speech in questions is offensive to the progressive left. (Former ACLU president Nadine Strossen had a different perspective.)

The ACLU has done so much to protect the civil liberties of all kinds of people. It would be a shame if it became just another left-of-center group, primarily interested in rights violations that affect those in good standing with intersectional progressivism. The decision to oppose Kavanaugh might be perfectly defensible on its own, but it certainly adds to this impression.