Brett Kavanaugh on the Importance of Judicial Temperament

In a 2015 speech, he told law students that it's vital for judges "To keep our emotions in check. To be calm amidst the storm."

Mother Jones tweeted out a video with the descriptor,

“In a 2015 speech, Brett Kavanaugh said that a judge must keep “emotions in check” and not be a “political partisan.”

At the hearing last week, Kavanaugh did not demonstrate the ability to put aside partisanship.”

In one of only a handful of instances I can recall lately, the actual source is more damning than the description given to it by a partisan outlet:

David Corn’s write-up is useful for those who dislike or are unable to listen to videos:

At Thursday’s historic and dramatic Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Judge Brett Kavanaugh issued a fiery and angry response to the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her more than three decades ago. An upset Kavanaugh—who alternated between bursts of belligerence and tear-suppressing sniffles—assailed the hearing as “a calculated and orchestrated political hit.” He railed against “outside left-wing opposition groups” and claimed this “circus” was a Democratic plot fueled by “revenge on behalf of the Clintons,” whom he investigated in the 1990s. When questioned by Democratic senators, Kavanaugh was contentious, argumentative, and combative.


In 2015, Kavanaugh gave a speech—titled “The Judge as Umpire”—at the Columbus Law School at Catholic University. It was during this event that he now-infamously said, “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.” But later in the speech, Kavanaugh explained the importance of judicial temperament. He described the attributes required for a “good judge”: to have the “proper demeanor,” to keep “our emotions in check,” to be “calm amidst the storm,” and to “demonstrate civility.” And, Kavanaugh added, “Don’t be a jerk.”

Here’s the transcript of the key part:

To be a good judge and a good umpire, it’s important to have the proper demeanor. Really important, I think. To walk in the others’ shoes, whether it be the other litigants, the litigants in the case, the other judges. To understand them. To keep our emotions in check. To be calm amidst the storm. On the bench, to put it in the vernacular, don’t be a jerk. I think that’s important. To be a good umpire and a good judge, don’t be a jerk. In your opinions, to demonstrate civility—I think that’s important as well. To show, to help display, that you are trying to make the decision impartially and dispassionately based on the law and not based on your emotions. That we’re not the bigger than the game…There’s a danger of arrogance, as for umpires and referees, but also for judges. And I would say that danger grows the more time you’re on the bench. As one of my colleagues puts it, you become more like yourself—and that can be a problem.

I’m afraid that Kavanaugh became more like himself on Thursday. Yes, I understand that, if he’s innocent of the worst charges against him, he has a right to be angry. And that he thinks Democrats on the committee deliberately leaked the Ford accusations at the 11th hour. But he failed his own test here.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Supreme Court, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. al Ameda says:


    He showed remarkable restraint during that hearing.

    One thing he did NOT do was exercise remarkable restraint.
    Wait, I suppose he could have left his seat assaulted Cory Booker and Dianne Feinstein.

  2. Mark Ivey says:

    ^^ “He showed remarkable restraint during that hearing.”

    I bet he’s beer restraining right now . . . . . .. . . . . . …

  3. Kathy says:

    One can reduce all the rationalizations in defense of Kavanaugh as follows: It’s wrong only when the other party does it! (Do I say this a lot?)

  4. Andy says:

    Kavanaugh here is clearly talking about being on the bench and conduct as a judge in actual judicial proceedings and in rendering judicial opinions and decisions.

    He’s not saying one should have the proper demeanor at all times and in all places to all people everywhere, and to put oneself in the shoes of everyone a judge might meet. Indeed I think such a standard is not humanly possible, but that’s not what he’s talking about.

    I think some of his recent testimony was problematic, especially the partisan stuff, but this is an inapt comparison. A political confirmation hearing is not a courtroom.

  5. al Ameda says:


    I think some of his recent testimony was problematic, especially the partisan stuff, but this is an inapt comparison. A political confirmation hearing is not a courtroom.

    You’re right, this is a job interview.

    And I’m not sure, given that ‘judicial temperament’ is part of the job description, that I could overlook the conspiratorial accusations that Judge Kavanagh levied against Committee Democrats. It was eye-opening.

    If up to me? I’d pull the plug on Kavanaugh and propose Judge Amy Barrett – she’s very conservative and does not possess Kavanaugh’s openly partisan political baggage. But … right now this is a machismo thing with Republicans, and barring further damage they’re more determined than ever to jam this nomination through.

  6. Kathy says:


    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  7. Modulo Myself says:

    NBC is saying he knew about Ramirez as far back as July, and texts exist to prove it. Add that to quote unquote Squi (present at the real party on 7/1 that Dr. Ford remarkably imagined) being leaked for Ed Whelan’s comic attempt at sleuthing, and you have a guy who knows a lot of background about what he’s claiming not to recall. And they are going to keep on coming, these stories. This is Trump all over again, with the same dipshits defending him or playing both sides.

  8. Kari Q says:

    He ranted about vast conspiracies, he screamed, he cried, he vowed revenge on his perceived enemies. But he didn’t resort to violence, so he showed “restraint!”

  9. Modulo Myself says:

    @Kari Q:

    He only sounds like an abusive prick, but that’s because–as is the case for all abusive pricks–the allegations against him are totally false. Why else would an abusive prick lose his cool? The truth?

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    Have you ever been that out of control of yourself in public? I haven’t. I’ve had some excellent domestic squabbles that got close to that level of emotion (though, neither of us snivels) but the idea that I’d let myself look that weak, that immature, that lacking in self-control in public appalls me. I would never let it happen.

    This guy has issues. You know it, I know it, neither of us would like to find ourselves sitting beside him at a bar.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    A political confirmation hearing is not a courtroom.

    Indeed it isn’t…we can only hope that if he does end up on SCOTUS, that he will have a more mature temperament than what he showed in that hearing…I mean, who is going to get it when what goes around comes around? And invoking the Clintons? I realize that they are responsible for all the evil in the world, but really…

    But … right now this is a machismo thing with Republicans…

    Perhaps that is why Kavanaugh was nominated over Barrett in the first place…lord knows her confirmation would have went much more smoothly than his…

  12. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @tm01: You also arent aware when your head is up your arse….nothing new there

  13. Kari Q says:

    @An Interested Party:

    And invoking the Clintons? I realize that they are responsible for all the evil in the world, but really…

    I was really disappointed in him here. He failed to mention Alinsky or Soros. Really, that’s elementary school stuff. How can he be qualified for the Supreme Court if he doesn’t even know that Soros is behind every conspiracy?

  14. Modulo Myself says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Barrett is probably squeaky-clean but she has a covenant marriage where she is under the head of the household. That might have worked before Kavanaugh, but come on. First they nominate an abusive drunk, then they’ll go with a nice upstanding woman who happens to belong to an actual religious cult where women are subordinate to men.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    @Modulo Myself: Ahh yes, I had forgotten about that…Republicans sure do know how to pick ’em…

  16. Modulo Myself says:

    Anyway, what kind of meathead gets in a fight after a UB40 show? Imagine getting riled up after hearing this. Maybe he wanted to fight the band or something.

  17. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    (though, neither of us snivels)

    I don’t think there has been enough idle speculation on this. I have to admit, when I first saw him sniffling and going from zero to enraged in like, no time, I thought, “Cocaine”. Just google “What drugs make you sniff a lot”

  18. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Have you ever been that out of control of yourself in public?

    Yep, sure have, but not often. However, I’m pretty sure I would be pretty mad if I were accused of multiple felonies.

  19. Michael Reynolds says:


    However, I’m pretty sure I would be pretty mad if I were accused of multiple felonies.

    I was accused of multiple felonies and took it rather calmly. Then again, I was guilty.

    Falsely accused I’d be the opposite of Kavanaugh because I’d know just how bad it made me look, and I’d be able to control myself. Kavanaugh blew his top not because he was falsely accused, but because he was caught in something he thought was no big deal. He raged to deflect.

    The polls show women with an 18 gap in opposing him, and when it comes to judging whether a guy is a douche, I trust women. Kavanaugh’s a mean drunk, and I have no tolerance for mean drunks. And no more sympathy for entitled prep school pricks who buy their masters-of-the-universe self-image and think they have a right to run over anyone in their path.

  20. Scott O says:

    @Andy: Do you think that when he said “don’t be a jerk” he meant “don’t be a jerk on the bench but it’s okay to be a jerk anywhere else”?

  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’ll offer an educated guess that Trump was not happy with Kavanaugh’s testimony. He still needs him on the court to protect Trump from Mueller – the only thing Trump cares about – but I bet we’ll eventually get stories of Trump ridiculing Kavanaugh for weeping. Trump has few talents, but smelling weakness is one of them.

  22. wr says:

    @Andy: “A political confirmation hearing is not a courtroom.”

    No. A political confirmation, unlike the Supreme Court, is being seen live by millions of Americans whose lives you want to have considerable control over. It’s the last place in the world where you will be subject to the judgment of others who can grant your dream of getting on the court or denying it.

    In other words, you would actually want to show MORE control here than once you are seated — because there are consequences here.

    Honestly, do they teach “conservatives” how to stop themselves from thinking?

  23. HarvardLaw92 says:


    He committed perjury. This is not a man I want on ANY court.

  24. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Over entitled Judges is one of the main reasons why Brazil is the mess that is today. You are not entitled to a job as a judge and in the end you are just a public servant. Public school teachers have to deal with far worse s* than Kavanaugh on a daily basis.

    Having people with the temper and the vanities of Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court is threat to Democracy. Democracy is made of norms, maybe even more than laws. Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are enough.

    Having these entitled people exactly like Kavanaugh as judges is a bigger problem in Brazil than corrupt politicians.

  25. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Andy: Ahhhh yes. Righteous indignation. Sometime I wonder what that’d be like. Then I remember that stuff like that get’s black men arrested, convicted, and/or killed.

  26. MBunge says:

    But he failed his own test here.

    Except for the fact…you know… that he’s not acting as a judge. He’s not hearing a case. He’s not weighing arguments. He’s not issuing rulings. He’s not dealing with the fortune and welfare of others. He’s a man with a previously spotless reputation suddenly being accused of sexual assault 30+ years ago by a woman who can’t even remember when or where it supposedly happened. Oh, and he’s also being publicly linked to the drugging and gang raping of teenage girls.

    Of all the incredibly stupid things that have been said and written about this matter, this is the most incredibly stupid. And it is the most incredibly stupid because every single person making this argument would not have given Kavanaugh an ounce of credit if he’d pulled a Mike Dukakis and been the calmest mother-trucker in the room. He could have sat at that table and been the politest person you’ve ever seen, James Joyner, and you wouldn’t have come here and declared that Kavanaugh should be confirmed.

    You’ve been a brave man during your life, James Joyner. I’m not sure where that bravery has gone. I guess time and age really does make cowards of us all.


  27. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Yet again, for the learning impaired – the man committed multiple instances of perjury in front of a Senate committee.

    On national television.

    Federal felony. Fines and/or a maximum of five years in a federal prison – for each offense.

    Nothing else matters now. Not these he said / she said accusations. Not his questionable relationship with alcohol. Not his apparent inability to restrain himself under duress. Not his evident anger management problems. Not his abiding sense of entitlement.

    The man has no respect for the law. He committed perjury. He’s unfit to serve as a judge on ANY court, ANYWHERE in this country. He belongs in prison. That’s the bottom line.

  28. Hal_10000 says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Yes, except that he told Congress that she had been calling classmates for weeks but he didn’t know the specific allegations until the New Yorker story.

  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @tm01: Does the continuous tap dance you’re doing tire you out at all? And considering that your act is the equivalent of tap dancing on a giant bowl of whipped cream, how DO you avoid sinking?

  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy: Same question as the Second One I asked above. WA! I’ve seen potatoes that were less in the bag.

  31. Franklin says:

    Random note to Florack: Not that it matters, but I see you’re a liar (surprise surprise). But even in refuting the relevance, I’m a dupe for even assuming you might be giving factual information:No, Ford isn’t associated with Strzok in any way.

  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    Honestly, do they teach “conservatives” how to stop themselves from thinking?

    That’s possible. While I was teaching at a Evangelical Christian school, I encountered material from Abeka which was advertising at the time that if one homeschooled their children with Abeka materials, those children would grow up never challenging authority.

  33. Gustopher says:

    I applaud Judge Kavanaugh for showing some restraint and not throwing a beer glass at any of the Senators.

  34. Anonne says:

    He should be disbarred. Along with Jeff Sessions.

  35. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @One American:

    Oh whatever 🙄

    You can’t even troll correctly.

  36. wr says:

    @One American: “You seriously underestimate how this attack on a wholesome famaily has disgusted Normal Americans:

    If by “Normal Americans” you mean racist trash in MAGA hats, I’m sure you’re right.

  37. KM says:

    @One American: agreed – Normal Americans are disgusted that the attacks on Ford and the other accusers had driven them from their homes via death threats. Threats made by deviant conservatives who think these women should suffer abuse for speaking up. You shoud be concerned for their families too.

    Normal Americans can’t stand watching a woman get called a shank for confronting an abuser. Guess you’re not a Normal American, then.

  38. James Pearce says:

    Most of Mother Jones’ readers will take the point –“that hypocrite smokes two packs a day”– but some people are going to watch Kavanaugh’s speeches and think, “Huh, he’s not that bad.”

    Better to stick with the snarling stills…

  39. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Yes, I understand that, if he’s innocent of the worst charges against him, he has a right to be angry.

    Because their lies should never be held against them. I know my ex thought so.

  40. Modulo Myself says:


    Give it up, man. He doesn’t say anything about calling classmates and asking them to refute her story. And he doesn’t say anything about asking for a picture from a wedding.

  41. Pylon says:

    Something tells me “One American” is neither acting alone nor an American.

  42. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:


    previously spotless reputation

    In may 2006 the ABA downgraded Kavanaugh due to his

    “…professional experience and the question of his freedom from bias and open-mindedness…”

  43. grumpy realist says:

    My worry is that Trump, by his antics, has been steadily contributing to the dissolution of what holds the US together. If something happens that he doesn’t like, or a vote goes against him, he yells “Fake News!”, goes into a tantrum, and insists that there is a conspiracy against him.

    And a lot of his supporters have been picking up his tricks. I suspect that even if there’s an incredible blue blowout in the election, the Limbaugh-listeners and the Breitbart-readers are going to claim that everything was hacked and their losing was Not Fair, whine whine whine.

    Someone should have slapped Mr. Bone Spurs more when he was growing up. You can’t run a nation with a population of whining toddlers.

  44. Kathy says:

    @grumpy realist:

    And a lot of his supporters have been picking up his tricks. I suspect that even if there’s an incredible blue blowout in the election, the Limbaugh-listeners and the Breitbart-readers are going to claim that everything was hacked and their losing was Not Fair, whine whine whine.

    Let them.

    My worry is that Trump will claim massive electoral fraud, illegal votes, etc., and demand GOP Congressmen stay in their seats and refuse to let the elected Democrats take their place.

    In essence, that he’ll carry out a coup. I don’t think he’s competent enough to do it, or even to know what it involves (elections being certified at the state level and all). But it would really bring lasting damage to America’s democracy.

  45. grumpy realist says:

    Report on an interaction with Kavenaugh while K. was working under Starr by a Telegraph reporter. (Said reporter says Kavenaugh is lying through his teeth.)

  46. David M says:

    It’s kind of odd to excuse Kavanaugh’s statements, made during Congressional hearings to asses his fitness to be a Supreme Court justice…as irrelevant to his fitness to be a Supreme Court justice. I’m having trouble believing anyone could possibly make that argument in good faith.

  47. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @One American:

    He lied under oath. Stop the confirmation 🙂

  48. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @One American:

    you haters just ATTACK a difference of opinion

    He perjured himself. That’s not a matter of opinion….it’s a felonious fact.

  49. Eric Florack says:

    Well I’ll tell you what. Let’s attack your character, your daughter’s, your family continuously in front of the entire world and see how you react. That way we can complain that you can’t hold your temper when you finally stand up and defend them.

  50. Being a good umpire is one thing.

    Being hit by a pitch while in the batters box by people who hate your guts is another.

    Impartiality requires that you are not the target.