Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said Thursday that he no longer believes Brett Kavanaugh is qualified for a seat on the Supreme Court because of his performance during last week’s confirmation hearings.
During hearings over a sexual assault allegation against him, Kavanaugh lashed out at what he called a “calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election,” claiming that “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” had played a role. Democrats and other critics argued that Kavanaugh’s testimony raised questions about his temperament and political bias, with some arguing it could be disqualifying.
“I think there’s merit to that criticism and I think the senators should really pay attention that,” Stevens said at an event in Boca Raton, Fla., on Thursday, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Stevens, a Republican who was appointed by GOP President Gerald Ford, often issued liberal opinions during his time on the high court. He signed a dissenting opinion in the Bush v. Gore case, in which the majority ruled to settle the 2000 election recount dispute in favor of George W. Bush. In March, after the Parkland shooting, Stevens wrote a New York Times column calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment.
As the Post noted, Stevens previously praised Kavanaugh in his 2014 book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.
“At that time, I thought (Kavanaugh) had the qualifications for the Supreme Court should he be selected,” Stevens said Thursday, according to the Post. “I’ve changed my views for reasons that have no relationship to his intellectual ability … I feel his performance in the hearings ultimately changed my mind.”
Stevens is the first retired or serving Supreme Court justice to comment on the controversy over Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Retired Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy, whose spot Kavanaugh has been nominated to fill, declined to comment on the hearings at an event last week, the Associated Press reported.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation will come down to a few key Senators ahead of a highly anticipated cloture vote on Friday. But Stevens’ comments quickly garnered attention Thursday.
“I agree with Justice Stevens. Judge Kavanaugh’s partisanship and temperament would do lasting damage to the credibility of the Court — an often overlooked consequence should he be confirmed,” tweeted Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com