After Donald Trump announced that Judge Brett Kavanaugh would be his nominee for the Supreme Court, the president welcomed the conservative jurist to the podium to deliver some prepared remarks. These were his first three sentences:
The fight over Kavanaugh’s nomination is going to cover an enormous amount of important ground, and I’m sensitive to the importance of not letting trivia detract from what really matters.
“Mr. President, thank you. Throughout this process, I’ve witnessed firsthand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary.
“No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination.”
But before the debate begins in earnest, it’s probably worth pausing to note that these opening comments were quite odd and raise some legitimate concerns about why in the world he’d say something like this.
First, his presidential praise was almost certainly wrong. Conservative interest groups presented Trump with a list of jurists deemed acceptable by the right, and the president chose from his menu of pre-selected options.
Let’s not pretend Trump carefully and thoughtfully scrutinized the possible nominees’ rulings and academic work. The Washington Post reported two weeks ago that the president asked aides about prospective nominees’ academic writing – not because he cared to read any of the published pieces, but because Trump simply wanted to know if the work exists.
Second, in American history, there have been over 160 Supreme Court nominees. According to Kavanaugh, before Trump, “No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination.”
There’s simply no way Kavanaugh can speak to this with any authority. For him to state such a claim as fact is hard to take seriously.
I imagine the White House’s allies will say the judge was simply being polite, saying nice things about the president who, moments earlier, announced plans to reward him with one of the nine most important jobs in American jurisprudence, and there’s no need to take it too seriously.
Perhaps. Alternatively, when a Supreme Court nominee uses pro-Trump hyperbole better left to the president’s press secretary, he’s signaling a deference that should give us pause.