It is often remarked that in the American system of governance, the supreme court has evolved to be a kind of super-legislature with a small number of exceedingly influential judges having life-time tenure. (If you google <"supreme court" super-legislature> yet get almost ten million hits.) If one takes the thought seriously it is kind of surprising that we don't see more politicians and party-activists on the court. I am unsure if Earl Warren was the last major politician to be on the court (he served alongside Hugo Black, who was also a politician-judge), but it's not entirely surprising that Judge Kavanaugh exhibits -- what the founders would have called -- factional tendencies and antipathies.* To be nominated to the Supreme Court one must be seen as advancing the political interests of a particular party/politician(s).
Of course, there is a difference between interpreting the constitution in light of one's principles (political or otherwise), which may conflict with other such principles, and being partisan about one's judgments. The former is compatible with certain forms of impartiality about particular cases one is asked to judge; the latter not. In addition, the former is to be expected in a pluralist society. And in practice, the politicians (Presidents and Senators) that get to decide who gets appointed Supreme Court Judge, have embraced the practice -- which is part of a number of useful aspirational fictions that constituted the civic religion of America, say, since 1945 -- in which judges are asked about their judiciary principles as a polite proxy for advancing their interests and ideologies. This proxy is imperfect (as the case of Judge Souter taught the republicans.) From this perspective, Judge Kavanaugh's partisanship is not so unusual; he is just unusually bad, if not shameless (I return to this below), at hiding and disguising his partisan sensibilities.*
There is another perspective to take on the evolution of the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS): it increasingly represents the meritocratic element in the US governance. This is especially striking because the (rather predictable)+ rise and effectiveness of ideological and interest based political parties undermined the meritocratic hopes the Founders may have had for the vestiges of influence of aristocracy, Senate and electoral college. (In the twentieth centuries political parties themselves became more democratic, too.) That is, the contemporary US Supreme Court is one of the clear places where in American governance a cognitive elite gets to decide the shape of law and policy relatively insulated from democratic control but in terms of public spirit. Another such locus is, say, the Federal Reserve. While there are good grounds to be critical of such insulation (and skeptical about the existence of public spirits), it helps balance what is otherwise a polity ruled primarily by interest.
For, SCOTUS is importantly unlike the Federal Reserve and say the Army (an institution also notable for its meritocratic spirit), because the judiciary is one of two institutions -- the other is the research intensive academy -- that is also committed to the production and establishment of truth. (I am drawing on Hannah Arendt's ideas here.) Because SCOTUS is a kind of super-legislature, its commitment to truth is, in practice, very imperfect.
Even if Judge Kavanaugh were factually innocent of sexual assault (which I doubt), it is no surprise that he has been turned into the symbol of entitled privilege and patriarchy. The philosopher Kate Manne has correctly noted that the response to Dr. Blasey's accusation has been a "pathological moral tendency to feel sorry exclusively for the alleged male perpetrator ...while relentlessly casting suspicion upon the female accusers." These are instructive and legitimate frames with which to evaluate the present political situation.
Even so, while I take human imperfection as axiomatic in my own understanding of liberal democracy, I was struck by the extent and range of his character imperfections during his hearings. He was loud, bullying, enraged, lacking in civility and self-control, and shameless in his contempt for several US Senators. This is, not unlike the President, not now a man with a warm heart for democratic mores. By speaking of his political critics in conspiratorial tones ('frenzy on the left;' 'outside left wing'), he is, in fact, rejecting the very idea of civic unity among conflicting views.
Because I am teaching Ibn Rushd's commentary on Plato's Republic this week, I was reminded of a passage I have quoted before:
Such is the case with these virtuous natures when they grow up in these [defective--ES] cities and are badly educated. Hence the causes of the great evils in these cities are none other than these individuals...Their thought and their rulership over the cities: this indeed is the greatest of the causes for the loss of wisdom and the extinguishing its light.--Ibn Rushd, On Plato's Republic, second treatise, 63.27-64.13, translated by R. Lerner.
A student noted today that the defects of the badly educated among the would be cognitive elite are not individual, but caused by impoverished structures. In bad structural circumstances, "the seeds of the best plants will," Ibn Rushd says echoing Socrates (Republic 491), "turn into the very worst of the bad kinds." Judge Kavanaugh was educated at America's elite institutions, and the patterns of his behavior, which are being revealed, represent the debased expression of the values that are permitted to fester among them. All of us who have spent our life-time in academia, are familiar with the sexualized forms of hazing and assault that are encouraged by fraternities, defended by alumni donor networks, and often too tolerated by our college administrations.** While few would advocate the return of strict moral norms on college campuses, Judge Kavanaugh's behavior, which could not have gone unnoticed by many peers, tells us about the gross practical imperfections for what passes as education today.++
To be sure, those very same institutions also produced Dr. Blasey (although she did not spent any time at Yale), who spoke eloquently of her understanding of civic duty. So, I am not suggesting they must produce bad character.
Ibn Rushd -- who not unlike Plato was an unabashed epistemocratic elitist -- thought that institutions that purported to promote a meritocracy were among the most dangerous because they could pretend to offer an excellent education, while simultaneously undermining not just the very possibility of the cultivation of excellent moral character, but also (thereby) the polity. And in fact, one cannot escape the thought that President Trump has stuck with Judge Kavanaugh's nomination in virtue of his shameless viciousness and, thereby, undermine the very possibility of thinking about the court in terms of meritocratic, public spiritedness.