Editors' pickPolitics

Kavanaugh’s Drinking Has Caused All His Problems

Chad Ludington wasn’t a star basketball player at Yale. Over four years, he had six starts and he only averaged 6.4 minutes played per game in his collegiate career. I undoubtedly saw him in action though, because I attended several Princeton-Yale basketball games during my high school years, which overlapped with his college years exactly. I actually learned to enjoy Princeton basketball in middle school, when Michelle Obama’s brother Craig Robinson was absolutely dominating the Ivy League. But he graduated the year before Ludington’s freshman year and neither of them went on to be NBA stars. Robinson was drafted by the Philadelphia Sixers but did not make the team. Both he and Ludington had brief careers playing ball in Europe and then they got serious about having more realistic careers.

For Robinson, that meant coaching the sport. He eventually was successful enough to land a job as head coach of the Oregon State University Beavers, and now he is the vice president for player and organizational development for the New York Knicks. For Ludington, it meant getting a doctorate in Philosophy and History from Columbia University, writing a book (The Politics of Wine in Britain: A New Cultural History), and landing a job at North Carolina State University as an associate professor.

Ludington is in the news this week because he used to socialize with Brett Kavanaugh and he wrote a letter to the New York Times that was published on Monday detailing some of his firsthand experiences, which contradict Kavanaugh’s sworn testimony before Congress about his drinking history. One reason that Ludington and Kavanaugh drank together is because Kavanaugh was also a basketball player at Yale, although he was never able to crack the varsity roster.  Nonetheless, they practiced together and ran in the same circles, went to the same parties, and shared a common culture.

Ludington acknowledges that he would be a hypocrite to condemn Kavanaugh for his college drinking, but he considered his testimony grossly dishonest.  The most glaring example he gave of Kavanaugh’s behavior seems to have disturbed Ludington enough to cause him to create some distance from the future federal judge.

When I watched Brett and his wife being interviewed on Fox News on Monday, and when I watched Brett deliver his testimony under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, I cringed. For the fact is, at Yale, and I can speak to no other times, Brett was a frequent drinker, and a heavy drinker. I know, because, especially in our first two years of college, I often drank with him. On many occasions I heard Brett slur his words and saw him staggering from alcohol consumption, not all of which was beer. When Brett got drunk, he was often belligerent and aggressive. On one of the last occasions I purposely socialized with Brett, I witnessed him respond to a semi-hostile remark, not by defusing the situation, but by throwing his beer in the man’s face and starting a fight that ended with one of our mutual friends in jail.

You tend to remember incidents that result in fights and arrests better than incidents that don’t. You also tend to take note of people who are volatile when drunk because you have to be careful what you say to them. Kavanaugh’s college room and suite-mates have already painted a grim picture of Kavanaugh’s early college years.

Especially disgusting was the shared bathroom, which was always covered in vomit. Kavanaugh and his crowd, whom [Kit] Winter characterizes as “loud, obnoxious frat boy-like drunks” were the hardest drinkers on campus even back then, when hard drinking did not hold the stigma it does today. In a statement earlier this week, [James] Roche recalled Kavanaugh “frequently drinking excessively and becoming incoherently drunk,” and Winter corroborates that recollection. “There was a lot of vomit in the bathroom. No one ever cleaned it up. It was disgusting. It wasn’t incidental. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, this weekend someone puked in the bathroom.’ People were constantly puking in the bathroom. Constantly.” Lori Adams, a retired psychiatrist in Underhill, Vermont, was a friend of Winter’s at Yale. “I remember,” she says, “that you couldn’t use the bathroom because his roommates vomited all over the floor and didn’t clean it up.”

His freshmen roommate James Roche also used the words “belligerent” and “aggressive” to describe Kavanaugh’s drunken persona.

When Kavanaugh’s high school and college drinking first came up, it was in the context of an alleged sexual assault he committed while highly intoxicated.  The accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, is 100 percent sure it was Kavanaugh who attempted to rape her, but she also said that she believed she was able to escape largely because Kavanaugh was so drunk at the time.  Under those circumstances, it’s not unlikely that Kavanaugh would not even have remembered what he had done.

Understanding that his denials would be discounted if he admitted drinking to excess, Kavanaugh has been unwilling to admit that he was a heavy drinker in high school or college. But, in the process, he has clearly and deliberately made an effort to mislead Congress while testifying under oath.  He has denied ever drinking to the point that he had only a partial recollection or no recollection at all of what happened the night before.  Under direct questioning from the Republicans’ own expert on sexual crimes, Kavanaugh refused to admit that he had ever passed out or blacked out from drinking too much alcohol.

Contrast that with the fact that his dorm bathroom was so consistently covered in vomit that people still remember not being able to use it.

Clearly, it is plausible that Kavanaugh had an encounter with his accuser, and did not remember it.  All his lies have been aimed at preventing us from coming to that conclusion, but we have enough witness testimony, and the testimony of his own high school yearbook, to know that he might not remember having committed the assault.

Two other concerns have emerged during this process. The first is a matter of temperament. Kavanaugh’s associates in college are in agreement that he was an aggressive and belligerent drunk, and I think we all have known people who are transformed in that way by heavy alcohol consumption. But Kavanaugh’s appearance last week before Congress was also alarmingly aggressive and belligerent, and he was presumably sober at the time.  It seems to me like an even temperament is an asset in all circumstances, but it’s particularly valued in judges.  Kavanaugh has a very uneven temperament, to put it mildly, and he says he still likes beer, which means he hasn’t concluded that he and the sauce are not good partners.  I don’t think this is a good recipe for a lifetime appointment.

The second concern is honesty, and we certainly want judges to be honest. Kavanaugh has clearly dissembled about things great and small, and that’s the primary reason why people should care about his college drinking. It’s not that he partied hard; it’s that he denied engaging in the kind of heavy drinking that causes memory loss when it’s as clear as day that he got completely trashed on a regular basis.

Back when I was a high schooler watching Princeton play Yale in basketball, I never imagined that I was looking at the brother of a future First Lady or the guy who would one day tell the FBI that a Supreme Court nominee had perjured himself before Congress.  But these are elite institutions, and I probably should have realized that the guys on the court were destined for bigger things.

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