Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said it was like a “gut punch” when he learned about the numerous sexual misconduct allegations levied against Judge Alex Kozinski, one of his former mentors, by numerous women.
Kavanaugh, who was asked about his relationship to Kozinski by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing Wednesday, said he was “shocked, disappointed [and] angry” by the allegations and felt a “swirl of emotions.” He said he was not aware of the alleged behavior until the accusations were made public.
Kozinski abruptly retired from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California last year after several female former law clerks and colleagues accused him of sexual misconduct that included touching, inappropriate sexual comments and forced viewings of pornography in his chambers. The case has prompted federal courts to examine how to better protect law clerks from harassment by powerful judges who can make or break their careers.
“When [the allegations] became public, the first thought I had was no one should be subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace ever – including in the judiciary, especially in the judiciary,” Kavanaugh said.
But Kavanaugh said the allegations against Kozinski – who has denied the accusations through his attorney – are part of a broader national issue and said there should be a better system for reporting harassment in the workplace.
“Whether it’s priests or coaches or teachers or doctors or businesspeople or news people, there’s a broad national problem that needs to be addressed, including in the judiciary,” Kavanaugh said, adding that he supports Chief Justice John Roberts' establishment of a working group to tackle issues with sexual harassment in the judiciary.
“I’m interested in doing everything I can to assist those efforts to make those workplaces safe,” Kavanaugh added.
Kavanaugh’s ties to Kozinski were expected to be brought up during the hearing. Kozinski advocated on behalf of Kavanaugh in 2006 when he was brought before the Senate Judiciary Committee ahead of being appointed a federal judge.
Kavanaugh is a former clerk of Kozinski's and landed a coveted clerkship for Justice Anthony Kennedy at the Supreme Court – who he is now trying to replace – with backing from Kozinski. The Senate confirmed Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit shortly after Kozinski gave him his "highest recommendation" in 2006, three years after George W. Bush first nominated him to a judgeship.
There are other links between the two men. Kavanaugh and Kozinski have together in recent years screened applicants for Kennedy clerkships. Kavanaugh hired Kozinski's youngest son, Yale law graduate Clayton Kozinski, last year as one of his clerks. The younger Kozinski had been in line to be a Kennedy clerk this year before the justice's announced retirement.
So far, no evidence has surfaced to suggest Kavanaugh was aware of Kozinski’s alleged behavior before the accusations were made public. Kavanaugh told lawmakers Wednesday it was “not often” that he spoke to or saw Kozinski and said he could not recall ever receiving emails from Kozinski that were inappropriate in nature.
Prior to the confirmation hearing, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said, “Alex Kozinski’s relationship with Judge Kavanaugh is a legitimate area of inquiry, and I plan to question Judge Kavanaugh on this topic.”
This is the second day of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing and the first when members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are able to ask the judge questions. The contentious hearing has been marked with numerous protests – from those in the audience and from Democratic senators who spent much of the first day calling for a delay in the hearing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.