September 29, 2018


Kavanaugh and the Blackout Theory: It is both easy and common to drink, act and then have no memory of it. (Sarah Hepola, The New York Times)

One of the trickiest things about blackouts is that you don't necessarily know you're having one. I wrote a memoir, so centered around the slips of memory caused by heavy drinking that it is actually called "Blackout," and in the years since its 2015 release, I've heard from thousands of people who experienced them. No small number of those notes contain some version of this: "For years, I was having blackouts without knowing what they were." Blackouts are like a philosophical riddle inside a legal conundrum: If you can't remember a thing, how do you know it happened?

In the days leading up to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, a theory arose that he might have drunk so much as a teenager that he did not remember his alleged misdeeds. The blackout theory was a way to reconcile two competing narratives. It meant that Christine Blasey Ford was telling the truth but so was Brett Kavanaugh. He simply did not remember what happened that night and therefore believed himself falsely accused. Several questions at the hearing were designed to get at this theory, but it gained little ground.

I want to be clear, up front, that I cannot know whether Judge Kavanaugh experienced a blackout. But what I do know is that blackouts are both common and tragically misunderstood.

At the Center of the Kavanaugh Accusations: Heavy Drinking (Mike McIntire and Ben Protess, Sept. 26, 2018, NY Times)

Another former classmate, Dr. Elizabeth Swisher, now a gynecologic oncologist in Seattle, said it would be "a lie" to say that he "never had a blackout" from drinking in college.

"I saw him very drunk many times and there is no way he remembers everything about every night," she said.

Several Yale classmates recounted an incident during Judge Kavanaugh's senior year: After a bout of drinking, they said, he tried to break into the enclosed back of a pickup truck belonging to one of them, and later refused to apologize or repair the damage. [...]

Judge Kavanaugh's own comments over the years leave little doubt that heavy drinking was a feature of his youth. On his high school yearbook page from 1983, he labeled himself the Keg City Club treasurer, noting "100 Kegs or Bust," and the "biggest contributor" to Beach Week Ralph Club, apparently a reference to throwing up.

In a 2014 speech to Yale Law students (a transcript of which was posted on Twitter by a Washington Post reporter), Judge Kavanaugh spoke fondly of two episodes during his time at the law school that involved heavy drinking. In one, he said, he organized a bus trip for a baseball game and night of barhopping in Boston, during which students did "group chugs" from a beer keg -- "only for us to return falling out of the bus onto the front steps of Yale Law School at about 4:45 a.m."

Another time, he said, he was at a class banquet during his final year, where he had "more than a few beers" beforehand, and a drunk friend fell and broke a table before getting up and being refused any more drinks by the bartender.

"I actually still possess a photo of him sprawled on the floor on top of the table," Judge Kavanaugh said.

While an undergrad at Yale, Judge Kavanaugh joined two organizations with reputations for hard partying. One was Delta Kappa Epsilon, a fraternity that several former Yale students described as a magnet for hard-drinking athletes who liked to party and pull pranks. DKE members marched around campus with women's underwear hanging from poles, and would print T-shirts for a drinking competition called Tang that featured "beer- and sex-inspired witticisms," according to the Yale student newspaper. Judge Kavanaugh also joined Truth and Courage, a secret society for seniors known largely as a drinking club.

Posted by at September 29, 2018 1:52 PM