Brett Kavanaugh, Merrick Garland, and the Cohesion of the Federal Bench

In Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s opening statement at his hearing Tuesday, he praised Merrick Garland, with whom he serves on the D.C. Circuit, as “our superb chief judge.”

If you were surprised by that, you shouldn’t have been. When President Obama nominated Garland to the high court, Judge Kavanaugh described his colleague as “supremely qualified by the objective characteristics of experience, temperament, writing ability, scholarly ability for the Supreme Court … He has been a role model to me in how he goes about his job.”

In fact, it has been reported in at least one place that one reason Kavanaugh was left off Trump’s initial list of SCOTUS nominees was that he had been so vocal and public in praising Garland’s nomination.

Now, it would be understandable if neither side in the partisan confirmation wars chose to emphasize this bit of background to the story. Republican strategists might not be keen on reminding listeners of what their party did with Garland’s nomination, and might also worry about eroding enthusiasm for Kavanaugh among certain elements of their base. Democratic strategists, meanwhile, might see the episode as one in which the present nominee comes off as not-a-monster, and, well, you can’t have that.

The lesson, if there is one, might be that the federal courts are not as polarized and tribal as much of the higher political class and punditry at nomination time.