Given the partisan polarization over the Supreme Court, it’s perhaps not surprising that an article in the New York Times reporting on a previously undisclosed allegation about Justice Brett Kavanaugh impelled some Democratic presidential candidates to call for his impeachment. But it’s disappointing and perhaps dangerous — less for Kavanaugh than for the image of the court as an institution that is above partisan politics.

The article in question was something of an oddity. It appeared online in the newspaper’s opinion display but was also labeled “news analysis.” To add to the categorical confusion, the authors — Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly — are news reporters for the paper who covered the Kavanaugh story and have written a book about it.

The headline of the article (“Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not”) didn’t seem to promise any newsworthy revelations. Indeed, the piece started out as a meditation by the authors on the class differences between Kavanaugh and Deborah Ramirez, a fellow student at Yale University in the 1980s who would later claim that the future Supreme Court nominee had exposed himself to her at a student party.

But then the piece made news with two claims. First, the reporters said that they found at least seven people who had heard the story about Kavanaugh and Ramirez, an allegation that got short shrift in Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation process. Second, they revealed that they had learned of reports of a similar incident involving Kavanaugh and a different female student.

Enter Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., whose interrogation of Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearings served as a dry run for her presidential campaign. Harris took to Twitter on Sunday morning to declare: “I sat through those hearings. Brett Kavanaugh lied to the U.S. Senate and most importantly to the American people. He was put on the court through a sham process and his place on the court is an insult to the pursuit of truth and justice. He must be impeached.”

Harris was joined in the stampede by fellow Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro. Warren tweeted on Saturday: “Like the man who appointed him, Kavanaugh should be impeached.” O’Rourke said Kavanaugh should “step down or be should be impeached.” Castro said: “It’s clearer than ever that Brett Kavanaugh lied under oath. He should be impeached.”

Whatever you think of Kavanaugh’s veracity — or his judicial philosophy, which is abhorrent to a lot of Democrats — this was an unseemly rush to judgment.

It was clear even before the article was published that the FBI didn’t take enough time to investigate allegations against Kavanaugh that bubbled up after Christine Blasey Ford accused the Supreme Court nominee of assaulting her when they were teenagers. The process seems even more slipshod in light of a second accusation about Kavanaugh’s time at Yale.

But for now it’s just an accusation, and there are complications that counsel caution in jumping to conclusions about it. For example, friends of the woman say she does not recall the incident, a detail in the book by Pogrebin and Kelly that the New York Times belatedly acknowledged in an “editor’s note” appended to their article.

Conceivably a new investigation by the FBI of allegations against Kavanaugh might turn up information that would justify the opening of an impeachment inquiry. It likely would focus on whether the nominee was truthful when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that “I have never sexually assaulted anyone — not in high school, not in college, not ever,” and that he never was so intoxicated that he would pass out or forget what he’d done.

But the calls for impeachment are premature and open to the charge that they’re politically motivated. President Donald Trump certainly seems to see the attacks on Kavanaugh as political (and politically advantageous for him). On Sunday he tweeted a defense of Kavanaugh with the hashtag #ProtectKavanaugh.

Not every would-be Democratic nominee joined the call for Kavanaugh’s impeachment. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who also used the word “sham” to describe the screening process for Kavanaugh, nevertheless stopped short calling for his impeachment. She noted that before Congress could begin impeachment hearings about Kavanaugh it would need to obtain documents related to the FBI’s background check. Former Vice President Joe Biden also held back, calling for an investigation into “whether the Trump administration and Senate Republicans pressured the FBI to ignore evidence.” Those reactions seem more prudent, and presidential, than the cries for impeachment.

Of course, it’s unlikely that the candidates’ call for a Kavanaugh impeachment will make much headway. On Monday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, indicated that his panel was too busy pursuing an inquiry into impeaching Trump to spare time for a Kavanaugh investigation.

But the fact that the candidates’ call for Kavanaugh’s impeachment isn’t going anywhere doesn’t make it any less irresponsible. Calling for the impeachment of a Supreme Court justice, even one whose confirmation you opposed, shouldn’t be just another political potshot.

 

Michael McGough is the Los Angeles Times’ senior editorial writer, based in Washington, D.C.