We all want more evidence of how Brett Kavanaugh behaved toward women as a student (was he a violent, binge-drinking predator, or just an entitled, binge-drinking lout?). Maybe we’ll get it, maybe not. But in the meantime, we have plenty of evidence of his adult judicial thinking about laws addressing violence against women—and of a disturbing willingness to erase rape victims from the record.
Specifically, we have Judge Kavanaugh’s praise for the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s ruling in United States v. Morrison. Though it got just passing mention in Kavanaugh’s first Judiciary Committee hearing, back in 2000 this was a massively consequential case: In a 5-4 ruling, the deeply divided justices, led by Rehnquist, gutted key sections of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.
The case began with an incident that is eerily prophetic of the accusations now leveled against Kavanaugh. In the fall of 1994, Christy Brzonkala, a first-year student at Virginia Tech, accused Antonio Morrison and James Crawford—varsity football players, like Judge Kavanaugh in his prep-school years—of raping her three weeks after her arrival on campus. Morrison later boasted in the campus dining hall of how he liked to get women drunk to coerce sex.
When Virginia Tech dithered and ultimately let Morrison off with a wrist-slap, Brzonkala sued him under the then-brand-new federal Violence Against Women Act—championed by Senator Joe Biden and passed by Congress in 1994 in the long, anguished aftermath of the Hill-Thomas hearings. Specifically, she seized on the VAWA’s core provision, allowing federal civil-rights lawsuits on the basis of gender-based violence.
Up until then, rape and intimate-partner violence were entirely a matter for local cops and state courts. But then as now, local cops too often looked the other way, or failed to investigate, or disbelieved victims; local prosecutors and local courts too often treated sexual-assault survivors like exhibits. All in all, this discouraged women from coming forward, which is exactly why Christy Brzonkala filed a civil rather than a criminal case. As with other civil-rights offenses, states simply couldn’t be entrusted with the job of defending the rights of gender-violence victims.
Congress declared that these local failures amount to systematic denial of equal protection under the law, and, what’s more, that violence against women and its psychological aftermath was inhibiting the full participation of women in jobs, the economy, and the public life of the nation. Like lynching and other forms of racial violence, violence against women deserved a federal remedy.
The Virginia Tech case was the first brought under the new law, and it got to the Supreme Court in 2000—with accused rapist Antonio Morrison represented by the Center for Individual Rights, part of the menagerie of Washington conservative legal shops that also nurtured Judge Kavanaugh.