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Kavanaugh's Former Yale Classmate Explains Why He Withdrew His Support

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now we're going to hear from a friend and former classmate of Judge Brett Kavanaugh who wrote a letter in support of the Supreme Court nominee in August and now says he has changed his mind. Mark Osler was in the Yale Law School class of 1990 along with Kavanaugh, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

MARK OSLER: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: When you think back to the late '80s when you and Kavanaugh were in law school together, what stands out to you?

OSLER: Well, it was an intense experience. It's a small class of about 160 people at that time at Yale Law. We knew each other pretty well, and the classroom experience and the social experience were both among the most intense of my life.

SHAPIRO: What was Kavanaugh like back in law school when you were students together?

OSLER: When we were in law school, Brett was like most people. He was young, energetic, smart, somebody that was interesting to talk to and hang around with. I never - and this is important to say - I never saw any of the behavior, anything like what's been alleged, and I never heard stories about that.

SHAPIRO: You're a Democrat. What factored into your decision to sign a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee along with 22 other classmates endorsing Kavanaugh over the summer?

OSLER: I am a Democrat. However, my side lost an election, and I'm certainly aware that Brett Kavanaugh does not agree with me on a number of legal and political issues. But having lost an election, the other side was not going to nominate somebody that I would have chosen in that way. And so you have to look at qualifications. You have to look at experience. And so I knew from my own experience with Brett that he was somebody that I liked. But I called some people who practiced in front of that court, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and they explained that he was a fair judge, somebody who hired good clerks and wrote good opinions. And so in part based on that, I signed the letter.

SHAPIRO: And then what was it about last Thursday's hearing that prompted you to send a second letter just yesterday to the Senate Judiciary Committee withdrawing your support?

OSLER: I think it really has to do not so much with the allegations of Dr. Ford, given that we're still waiting for the FBI to report on that. It has to do with the exchange he had with the senators, which is a coequal branch of government, and having civil discourse with the coequal branches of government is something that we have to expect from the Supreme Court. In particular, it was the exchange with my own senator, Amy Klobuchar. Brett Kavanaugh started by recognizing his - that he liked her, that he admired her work. But then, once she asked a hard question, he responded by throwing the question back at her.

SHAPIRO: This was a question about his drinking.

OSLER: That's correct. And he'd done that before with Senator Whitehouse, perhaps one other senator. And there was something about that that was like a gut punch, you know? It was really disappointing. Now, he did come back and apologize for that, at least to Senator Klobuchar, but that's something that is very hard to get over.

SHAPIRO: Why do you consider that disqualifying?

OSLER: Like I said, because there are expectations of the Supreme Court that they have to treat with respect the coequal branches of government. They can't, as we often hear, arrogate the power to themselves. And if he's going in with that kind of contempt for a coequal branch, it's deeply troubling.

SHAPIRO: I know that you've been in touch with other classmates. Do you feel that you're representative or more of an outlier?

OSLER: Oh, I'm an outlier in two ways. I mean, I was an outlier for signing the letter in the first place. I only 23 out of the 160-some members of the class who signed it in the first place. So that made me an outlier, and I'm certainly an outlier, along with Mike Proctor, in withdrawing from the letter. So it's really only the two of us amongst that whole group who did both things.

SHAPIRO: Do you still consider him a friend?

OSLER: Yes. I hope that we can have a friendship. I suspect he might be screening my calls right now, but I hope not.

SHAPIRO: Mark Osler is a Yale Law School classmate of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Thank you very much.

OSLER: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And professor Osler now teaches law at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.