Even before attorney Debra Katz took on Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s primary accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, as a client, she was someone the abusive and unscrupulous should have feared. At least, that’s how she was portrayed in the press.
“Those who know and have worked with Katz describe her as a meticulous and battle-tested attorney, as someone who vets her clients carefully and doesn’t take on cases merely because she sympathizes with victims of exploitation and abuse,” the Washington Post glowed. The Washingtonian described Katz as the capital’s “top attorney for women who want to fight back.” And that’s not a burden she took lightly. Litigating sexual harassment cases “hurts people in such a deep way,” she confessed. “We need to be fighting harder, and more strategically and more vocally.”
Katz was a serious person, and congressional Republicans took her seriously. Blasey Ford’s attorney made a variety of demands on the Judiciary Committee staffers who were slated to question her client, some of which were absurd but others—like her request for Blasey Ford to testify without Kavanaugh present and to be questioned by outside counsel and not lawmakers—were granted. These were small concessions in service to what Katz insisted was the effort to get to the truth. “Intention matters,” the lawyer told CBS News, “if we’re trying to really engage in an inquiry to get at the truth, a highly politicized environment such as the one were in is not designed to do that.”
As it turns out, Katz wasn’t as opposed to a “highly politicized environment” as she maintained. “In the aftermath of these hearings, I believe that Christine’s testimony brought about more good than the harm misogynist Republicans caused by allowing Kavanaugh on the court,” Katz told attendees at the University of Baltimore’s Feminist Legal Theory Conference this past April. “He will always have an asterisk next to his name. When he takes a scalpel to Roe v. Wade, we will know who he is, we know his character, and we know what motivates him. And that is important; it is important that we know, and that is part of what motivated Christine.”
Only someone with a lawyer’s gift for prevarication could fail to comprehend Katz’s meaning. In this textbook definition of the Kinsley gaffe, Katz has revealed that not only was she motivated to litigate the claims against Kavanaugh for the advantageous political effect they would have but that her client was, too. And what was that desired effect? Affixing an “asterisk” to Kavanaugh’s record so that his judgments and decisions would be regarded as animated by biases and prejudices and would be, therefore, suspect if not entirely illegitimate.
This is an admission entirely against interest, in part, because you do not have to announce the presence of an asterisk if it truly exists. The Democratic partisans who insist Justice Clarence Thomas has been similarly undermined are screaming into a void. His concurrences and dissents still carry as much moral and intellectual weight as any other justice. He still influences the evolution of legal thought as much as or more than his colleagues on the bench. His clerks still get confirmed to federal judicial appointments in striking numbers. The notion that Kavanaugh’s reputation had been irreparably tarred in some way by his confirmation hearings isn’t an observation. It’s a self-affirmation.
And what was the point of such an admission—one that calls into question both Katz’s motives and Blasey Ford’s—except to give away the game before a friendly audience who shared her political objectives? For such a supposedly competent attorney, the ethics of her conduct are questionable.
That’s hardly the only question her comments raise: If Katz genuinely believed that her client suffered the grave injustice and physical abuse that was alleged, what solace is there for her in the notion that Justice Kavanaugh may not be able to render a verdict without pundits opining on its legitimacy? If the #MeToo moment was the reckoning over abusive men in protected positions she made it out to be, where does pursuit of delayed justice for those victims involve abortion rights? Only the blindest partisan would draw such a parochial connection, much less say it out loud in mixed company and on camera.
Either justice was done in this case or it was not. If Katz believes that impugning Kavanaugh’s character on scant evidence amounts to some sort of consolation prize, that says more about the validity of Blasey Ford’s claims than anything that was uncovered during the entire sordid confirmation process.
“This is not an exercise that is designed to get at the truth,” Katz said of Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. “This is an exercise that’s designed to terrify somebody who’s already been traumatized and it’s an effort to try and intimidate.” Katz was right. That spectacle was an effort to “try and intimidate,” but her client wasn’t the target.