Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has kept a relatively low-profile since the Senate narrowly confirmed him last year amidst serious allegations of sexual assault. That will change tonight when Kavanaugh is the keynote speaker at the annual convention for The Federalist Society, an enormously powerful right-wing legal organization.
Kavanaugh will find a friendly audience. After Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, Federalist Society President Leonard Leo took leave from his job to advise Trump on selecting Kennedy's replacement. Trump chose Kavanaugh with Leo’s advice, and The Federalist Society played an enormous role in defending Kavanaugh as allegations of sexual assault emerged.
The event tonight is black-tie optional and backed by a group of "Gold Circle" sponsors. Most of the sponsors, as you might expect, are law firms. But there are a few exceptions, including the world's largest social media company: Facebook.
Facebook's "Gold Circle" status includes prominent placement in the Federalist Society convention's official app:
Facebook's conspicuous role in an event honoring Kavanaugh is likely to be a source of controversy among Facebook employees. In 2018, Kavanaugh made a second appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee to address allegations of sexual assault. Sitting behind Kavanaugh, in a show of support, was Facebook's head of global public policy, Joel Kaplan.
The New York Times reported that Kaplan's "appearance prompted anger and shock among many Facebook employees." The issue with Kaplan's appearance, according to the employees, was that it sent a signal that "Mr. Kaplan believed Mr. Kavanaugh’s side of the story rather than Dr. Blasey’s testimony." Kaplan's actions were "especially hurtful to Facebook employees who were also sexual assault survivors, many of whom began sharing their own #MeToo stories internally."
"I want to apologize," Kaplan said in a note sent to Facebook staff. "I recognize this moment is a deeply painful one — internally and externally."
Now, a year later, Facebook is sponsoring Kavanaugh's return to the public stage.
Facebook did not respond to a question from Popular Information about whether it conferred with the employees concerned about Kaplan's 2018 appearance before making the decision to sponsor the Federalist Society convention. The company also did not reveal how much it paid for a "Gold Circle" sponsorship.
Instead, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone emphasized that Facebook supports organizations across the political spectrum, including the American Constitution Society, The Federalist Society's liberal counterpart. (You can see a full list of the groups Facebook supports here.) Stone said that Facebook has supported The Federalist Society and The American Constitution Society since at least 2013, and that Kaplan would not attend the event.
"This reporting purposely focuses on Facebook's support for one organization to distract from our lengthy track record of supporting groups from across the political spectrum," Stone told Popular Information.
Those other groups, however, are not holding a large event celebrating Kavanaugh, a man accused by multiple women of sexual assault. Facebook has chosen to be a top sponsor of this specific event in spite of Kavanaugh's role and its employees' prior concerns.
Evidence against Kavanaugh is stronger now than when Kavanaugh was confirmed
The evidence supporting allegations that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault is stronger today than it was when Kavanaugh was confirmed last year. The Kavanaugh hearings featured powerful testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, who said that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school party. Specifically, Ford alleged Kavanaugh "pinned her to a bed, groped her and tried to remove her clothes while covering her mouth." Many Republican Senators described Ford's testimony as credible.
But Republicans did not allow testimony from a second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, who says she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh at Yale. Republicans claimed Ramirez's account lacked corroboration.
But two New York Times reporters who wrote a book about Kavanaugh, Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, were able to uncover additional corroborating evidence, which they reported in September.
At least seven people, including Ms. Ramirez’s mother, heard about the Yale incident long before Mr. Kavanaugh was a federal judge. Two of those people were classmates who learned of it just days after the party occurred, suggesting that it was discussed among students at the time.
Pogrebin and Kelly also uncovered "a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes Ms. Ramirez’s allegation." In that alleged incident, Kavanaugh had "his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student."
The new information prompted several Democratic presidential candidates to call for Kavanaugh's impeachment.
The purpose of Kavanaugh's keynote speech at The Federalist Society's annual dinner is to help Kavanaugh move past the controversy and normalize his tenure in the Supreme Court.
The Federalist Society, Facebook, and the impeachment debate
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees that it would "suck" if Elizabeth Warren, one of the leading Democratic candidates, becomes president. Now, as the public impeachment hearings begin, Facebook is aligning itself with an organization that argues that the Democrats' impeachment investigation is illegal.
In an article published in The Daily Caller, an official Facebook fact-checking partner, Steve Calabresi, co-founder and chairman of the board of The Federalist Society, said the impeachment inquiry into Trump was "unconstitutional."
The nation is transfixed by the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump for purportedly using U.S. military aid to Ukraine to prompt that country to reopen a corruption into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son. What no one is focusing on is the fact that the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is violating the president’s constitutional rights. The House majority is thus itself acting unconstitutionally and is seriously abusing its power.
Calabresi argued that the impeachment inquiry violated the 6th Amendment. But as any first-year law student understands, the 6th Amendment applies to criminal prosecutions. An impeachment inquiry is an investigation, not a prosecution. If the House impeaches Trump, the trial occurs in the Senate. But even in the Senate, the 6th Amendment does not apply because impeachment is not a criminal prosecution.
By Calabresi's logic, grand juries, which meet in secret and return indictments against criminal defendants, would violate the 6th Amendment.
"This is so embarrassingly incorrect as a matter of law, that if Steve did not already have tenure he would be denied it on this basis alone," Paul Rosenweig, a law professor at George Washington University, tweeted.
Cozying up to power
Whatever the deficiencies in its legal arguments, The Federalist Society is reshaping American jurisprudence.
This gets to the heart of why Facebook may be interested in having a high profile at Thursday's dinner honoring Kavanaugh. During the meeting with Facebook employees, Zuckerberg said that if Warren or another candidate who favored breaking up Facebook won the presidency, the company would pursue "a major lawsuit against our own government."
Today, a majority of Justices on the Supreme Court — Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh — are tightly connected to The Federalist Society. Gorsuch will also be speaking at The Federalist Society event, which is attended by many other conservative judges and future judges.
These are the people who, one day, may decide the fate of Facebook.
Thanks for reading!