The Supreme Court must serve without benefit of what Alexander Hamilton called "the sword or the purse." Its nine justices don't carry guns; they don't command an army to enforce their rulings. They also lack any kind of slush fund to buy influence or pay off pests like porn stars.
Instead of might or money, the court's authority is grounded in an elusive but indispensable quality: prestige. Without prestige, the Supreme Court is a fancy-dress show whose rulings won't even bind the lower courts.
If Judge Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court after his hurdy-gurdy self-pity jamboree before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, the prestige of the court will take a hard hit. It won't command the respect it requires in a nation that claims to have, in the words of John Adams, "a government of laws and not of men."
Even leaving aside the ample evidence that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault – notably, the credible testimony of alleged victim Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh's contemporaneous yearbook confessions, and a slew of damning witnesses to his drinking habits and aggression – Kavanaugh would be a black eye for the court.
As we saw last Thursday, Kavanaugh is an insolent snot who snaps at members of the U.S. Senate and dodges hard questions like a schoolboy in detention. He espouses bizarro myths about conspiracies aimed at thwarting his perfect self. If nothing else, the strange crocodile tears about his dear-old-dad's calendars should earn him a psychiatric discharge.
I coddle snowflakes as much as the next liberal mom, but I don't think Kavanaugh deserves so much as a participation trophy.
Now, you might see him differently. If you despise Democrats and believe the psychology professor Ford is a paid crisis actor, you might be inclined to see a fellow traveler in Kavanaugh. What I see as hysteria you may see as passion. But a hotheaded partisan, even if he's a lot of fun in the carpool, is not a Supreme Court justice.
Having a man credibly accused of sexual assault on the court would change its dynamics. But having a rabid far-right agent on the court would be a hostile takeover, it would create doubts about its every ruling. And if those doubts led the lower courts or law enforcement to nullification – in even one instance – we'd be on the road to constitutional crisis.
This is no exaggeration. The signs are there. As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) put it Friday, "The court is flying all the warning flags of a captured agency."
If Kavanaugh is confirmed, his fellow justices will know he's in the tank for the wingnuts of the Republican Party. Any claim he's tried to stake to being a measured jurist flew out the window when he fired up the conspiracy talk and kept ralphing up those hymns to beer.
Torpedoing his own prestige to own the libs and take down Roe vs. Wade, that's not exactly Solomonic. But if the Senate torpedoes the Supreme Court's prestige to own the libs, that's a crisis.
– Virginia Heffernan is a journalist, critic and author. She is a contributing editor at POLITICO. She wrote this column for the Los Angeles Times.