Commentary

The right turns on “cringing little liberal” Brett Kavanaugh for ruling in favor of vaccine mandate

Brett Kavanaugh frowns
Why does Brett Kavanaugh always look like he just ate bad seafood?Photo: Screenshot

When Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the right wing was not exactly enthusiastic. Many groups had been hoping for a more reliably hardcore conservative, like Amy Coney Barrett. (Of course, they eventually got their wish.) However, the accusation of sexual harassment against Kavanaugh and his fiery response led the right to circle the wagons around him and silence any public doubts about his conservative credentials.

Not any more. Kavanaugh has now become the target of enraged (or at least faux-enraged) right wingers who consider him little more than the bro version of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Related: Supreme Court Justice shoots down lawyer’s wild claim about LGBTQ rights

The reason: Along with Chief Justice John Roberts — whom the right has already written off as an apostate — Kavanaugh provided the crucial vote to uphold President Biden’s mandate requiring health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID. 

To the right, it doesn’t matter that Kavanaugh and Roberts both voted against Biden’s mandate for large employers. (The screwy reasoning against that mandate was that upholding safety in the workplace is okay, but the vaccine goes too far because it extends beyond working hours and can’t be reversed.)

Indeed, Barrett and fellow Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas argued that “exceedingly clear” Congressional authorization was required for the vaccine mandate, even though existing regulations say that the federal government can impose requirements to protect patient health and safety.

The backlash against Kavanaugh was swift. Tucker Carlson, the de facto spokesperson for the right, called the justice a “cringing little liberal.” 

Carlson elaborated that “many of us believed he was a sincere conservative.” Instead, the Fox News talking head engaged in some armchair psychoanalysis.

“We didn’t understand that something had broken inside of Brett Kavanaugh, [that] on some level his tormentors now controlled him and that going forward he would be more loyal to conventional opinion than to the constitution of the United States,” Carlson said.

Carlson was hardly alone in his attack. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has been consistently resistant to fighting COVID, said that Kavanaugh and Roberts “didn’t have a backbone on that decision.”

Not to be outdone, Donald Trump Jr. also weighed in, demonstrating his fealty to Carlson by echoing the same line of thought.

“The left broke Kavanaugh,” Trump Jr. said. “That was always their intention and it worked. They turned him into a Roberts.”

Exactly how that works defies logic, as with so much else Trump-related. Why the attacks on Kavanaugh would suddenly make him sympathetic to liberal arguments makes no sense. But sense has never been a strong suit in right wing rhetoric.

The ex-president himself is apparently unhappy with his choice. “I am very disappointed in him, in his rulings,” Trump was reported saying in one recent book.

Kavanaugh is no David Souter, the justice appointed by George H.W. Bush who turned out to be far more liberal than Bush anticipated. Kavanaugh checks all the requisite boxes of a good conservative for the Federalist Society, the right-wing group to which Trump outsourced his nominations.

But Kavanaugh does show some fealty to the law, which means that his decisions aren’t always entirely ideological. That’s his primary sin. Carlson, et al don’t want a justice. They want an ideologue. In Barrett, Alito and Thomas, they have ideologues. In Kavanaugh and to a lesser extent Neil Gorsuch, not so much. (Gorsuch betrayed the movement by ruling in favor of trans rights in 2020.)

Of course, Kavanaugh still has plenty of time to redeem himself. One likely possibility is on religious liberty. Kavanaugh seems very sympathetic to the argument that people should be able to exercise their beliefs at the expense of LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.

Letting conservative Christians refuse services to same-sex couples would certainly be one way to prove that he’s not a cringing little liberal.

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