Could Brett Kavanaugh Apologize His Way Out of This?

Judge Brett Kavanaugh testified yesterday that he did not assault anyone, but he also admitted that he drank too much in his younger days. He insists that he never drank so much that he blacked out, but apparently his college friends tell a different story. So, what if Judge Kavanaugh acknowledged a memory lapse and admitted to the possibility that events happened as his female accusers have said? Instead of sounding like an alcoholic-in-denial, he would create rapport with many Americans who regret adolescent behavior, and just might persuade doubters that he’s no longer who he was then.

Here’s what he might say:

[Acknowledgment of offense] Like everyone else, I was stunned by the allegations from Dr. Ford. The behavior she described is so abhorrent that I instinctively denied ever doing anything even close. I honestly do not remember ever doing anything like this. As I have continued to reflect on this, I have to admit that I don’t remember everything I did while I was in high school and early college. As I testified, I drank too much. I did that too often. Although I don’t think I ever blacked out from drinking, and I don’t recall my friends telling me things I’d done while drinking that I did not remember myself, that may have happened. No one ever told me that I attempted to assault someone, so I still have trouble believing I am the one who did this; but I admit that there is a remote possibility that this could have happened.

[Responsibility] If I was actually the one who assaulted Dr. Ford, then I must apologize to her. I will do that privately, but I also owe the public an apology, since it’s a horrible act that I initially denied. The idea that I could behave this way is contrary to who I am, so it’s revolting to think I’m capable of this—but I know, as a man, and as the sinner God knows me to be, that I am capable of such vile behavior. It’s easy to blame the alcohol, but I’m the one who kept choosing to drink; I am responsible.

[Remorse] I am disgusted by the thought that I did this to another human being. I will regret it as long as I live. It’s especially painful to hear that Dr. Ford has suffered the effects of this incident for years, while I have been free of it. Now the tables are turned; I hope my apology will bring some measure of healing for her, whereas I will now carry the shame of this incident for the rest of my life. I wish I had made amends long ago for the sins of my youth, but I believe it’s never too late. I deeply regret the offenses I committed while in high school and college, and ask your forgiveness. It will not happen again.

[Repair] There are some who say I should withdraw from being in nomination for the Supreme Court. Indeed, some say that I should withdraw from the bench altogether. Frankly, in some ways that would be easier—and that’s why I will not do it. The fact is that I am not the person I was then.  I recognized at some point in college that my drinking was interfering with my goals, and I cut way back. In effect, I matured. Decades of service demonstrate this, and it’s corroborated by many colleagues who have observed my work for years. I hope my behavior when I was a teen does not determine who I am now, or will be the rest of my life.  I believe that what I and my family have suffered in the last two weeks is penance for my past sins, and I hope to move on. This episode has heightened my awareness of both sexual assault and the dangers of drunkenness, and I will continue to work against both.


It still wouldn’t be a great apology. One element of a good apology is being specific about the wrongs done, and Judge K does not want to, or cannot, do that. Another element is making some form of restitution, and I don’t know how he could do that here. Another element is to accept the consequences, and arguably for him to be a judge is rewarding rather than punishing his criminal behavior.

But perhaps his misery these last two weeks is punishment enough. If we believe in second chances, that we shouldn’t be punished forever for stupid, even criminal, things we did in our youth, then we could permit him to remain a judge. If he apologized.



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