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How The Legal Community Is Reacting To The Planned Senate Vote On Kavanaugh


Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination has not only divided the country. It has divided the legal profession. As senators move forward with a vote to confirm him, more than 1,700 law professors across the country are urging them not to do it. Meanwhile, former law clerks have rushed to Kavanaugh's defense, saying he had a stellar record on the bench. NPR's Brakkton Booker reports.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Sarah Pitlyk is a lawyer in St. Louis. She clerked for Judge Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit Court in 2010 and calls it one of the most enriching and intellectual experiences of her life.

SARAH PITLYK: He's extremely principled, and scrupulous about his approach to cases and his approach to both fact and law. He's the hardest worker I've ever known.

BOOKER: Kavanaugh has repeatedly said he's a champion of women's rights, and Pitlyk agrees. When she began her clerkship, she was a mother of a toddler. She says he would allow her to shift her hours so she could spend more time with her baby. He also let her leave for doctor's appointments during the day when she found out she was pregnant with her second child.

PITLYK: Which is pretty unusual in a federal clerkship, especially one of the caliber of Judge Kavanaugh's clerkships.

BOOKER: Pitlyk says the sexual misconduct allegations levelled against Kavanaugh that date back decades to his high school and college days are, quote, "wildly inconsistent" from the Kavanaugh she knows. And she's not the only one.

TRAVIS LENKNER: I was shocked and really left me speechless when I heard the allegation.

BOOKER: That's another former Kavanaugh law clerk, Travis Lenkner. He's never wavered in his support. And for the last three months, he's been trying to rally support for Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. Lenkner says he's reached out to some 200 people who have known the judge.

LENKNER: There's no room in my mind for it to be true that Brett Kavanaugh committed sexual assault.

BOOKER: The FBI has wrapped its supplemental background check into Kavanaugh's sexual misconduct allegations. Republican and Democratic senators have spent much of the day looking at the report from a secure room on Capitol Hill. Senators like Susan Collins of Maine, who is considered a crucial swing vote, say the FBI's report appears to be a very thorough investigation. Other Republicans say there's nothing in this report to disqualify him. But critics and protesters are pressuring senators not to confirm.

BERNARD HARCOURT: Judge Brett Kavanaugh displayed such a lack of judicial temperament that would be entirely disqualifying for any court and certainly for elevation to the highest court of this land.

BOOKER: Bernard Harcourt teaches law and political science at Columbia University. He's one of more than 2,400 law professors from across the country that signed a letter calling into question Kavanaugh's ability to remain impartial. The law professors pointed to Kavanaugh's heated and at times combative exchanges with Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee last week. Kavanaugh has served on the federal bench for a dozen years. He has a top rating from the American Bar Association, though that organization raised concerns over his judicial temperament years ago.

HARCOURT: There are also problems in terms of whether or not Judge Kavanaugh would have to recuse himself from a myriad number of cases that have a partisan nature to them.

BOOKER: Harcourt says cases involving congressional redistricting, campaign finance and others. Brakkton Booker, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.