White House

Opponents of Brett Kavanaugh hope a MeToo link will derail Trump’s high court pick

Opponents of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Wednesday unveiled a new line of attack — questioning whether Kavanaugh, as a clerk to 9th U.S. Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski in the early 1990s, knew about Kozinski’s alleged sexual harassment of fellow clerks.

Kozinski abruptly retired in December last year after multiple women, including former clerks and a retired federal judge, accused him of abuse, including showing them pornography in his chambers, forcibly kissing them and inviting them to have sex. Kavanaugh clerked for Kozinski from 1990 to 1991.

Ultraviolet, a liberal group that is part of the “#MeToo” movement working to expose and end sexual harassment, called Wednesday for the U.S. Senate to investigate what Kavanaugh knew about Kozinski’s behavior.

“Judge Kozinski’s office had a long history of being a toxic and dangerous environment for women,” Karin Roland, chief campaigns officer for Ultraviolet, said in a statement. “The American public deserves to know what Kavanaugh saw and heard, and if he did witness or hear about any harassment, what he did or could have done to report it.”

It is not clear if efforts to link Kavanaugh to Kozinski’s behavior will gain traction. While women have come forward to report abuse by Kozinski that occurred as early as the mid-1980s, there have been no known reports of Kavanaugh being aware of such behavior, or it occurring while he worked for Kozinski.

Kavanaugh’s critics, even before President Donald Trump nominated him on Monday, circulated a six-page opposition research memo tying him to Kozinski. The memo, first reported by Politico, concluded it was virtually impossible for Kavanaugh to be unaware of Kozinski’s behavior, although the memo cited no evidence that he did.

Raj Shah, the White House spokesman handling questions about Kavanaugh’s nomination, did not immediately respond for comment.

Kavanaugh worked as a White House staff secretary for President George W. Bush before Bush nominated him for a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Previously, he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and worked with independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr in his investigation of President Bill Clinton.

Before that, Kavanaugh clerked with Kozinski at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes the nine western states, including California and Washington.

Kozinski, appointed by Ronald Reagan to the 9th Circuit, served on the court from 1985 until 2017, and was known as a “feeder judge,” sending nine of his clerks to work for Supreme Court justices between 2009 and 2013 alone. Kavanaugh was one of several Kozinski clerks he helped place with Justice Kennedy, one reason that ambitious law school students competed hard to clerk for Kozinski.

The Washington Post reported in December that 15 former clerks and other women had come forward alleging Kozinski had abused them. One of them was Christine O.C. Miller, 73, a retired U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge. She said Kozinski fondled her in a car after an event in the mid-1980s and invited her to go to a motel and have sex.

Shortly after these reports, Kozinski announced his immediate retirement on Dec. 18 and apologized, saying he had “a broad sense of humor and a candid way of speaking to both male and female law clerks alike.” He added: “In doing so, I may not have been mindful enough of the special challenges and pressures that women face in the workplace.”

Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings in the Senate are expected to be hard fought, largely because Democrats fear he could provide a crucial fifth vote to reverse Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that struck down state restrictions on abortion. Ultraviolet, which claims to have 1 million online followers, is one of the groups that has warned that any Trump Supreme Court pick could spell doom for abortion rights and other issues of concern to women.

In his White House remarks after Trump announced his nomination, Kavanaugh seemed determined to show his feminist credentials, noting his mother’s influence as a teacher and judge; his hiring at Harvard Law School by future Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan; and the number of women clerks he has hired on the D.C. Circuit.

“As a judge, I hire four law clerks each year,” Kavanaugh said during his remarks at the White House. “I look for the best. My law clerks come from diverse backgrounds and points of view. I am proud that a majority of my law clerks have been women.”

From the White House on Monday night, President Donald Trump announced Judge Brett Kavanaugh as his choice for the seat opened up by Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement. Kavanaugh would be less receptive to abortion and gay rights than Kennedy was.

Stuart Leavenworth: 202-383-6070, @sleavenworth
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