Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, on Aug. 22, 2018. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi / ALM

At the end of a round of aggressive questioning by Sen. Dick Durbin on Thursday, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh held up a book and thanked Durbin for giving it to him.

It was not just any book. “Taming the Storm,” by Jack Bass, is a powerful 1992 biography of the legendary late Judge Frank Johnson Jr., one of a handful of white Southern federal judges whose orders and opinions gave legal reinforcement to the civil rights movement, in issues from bus and school segregation to voting rights.

Johnson served as a federal district court judge in Alabama from 1955 to 1979, and as an appeals judge—first for the Fifth Circuit, which was then split off to form the Eleventh Circuit—from 1979 to 1999, when he died. Bass’ book was one of several he wrote about the role of judges in the civil rights movement. He could not be reached for comment.

Johnson was subjected to death threats and cross burnings, and Martin Luther King Jr. said he “gave true meaning to the word ‘justice.’” Alabama Gov. George Wallace once said Johnson needed a “barbed wire enema.”

Kavanaugh said Durbin gave him the book late on a Friday afternoon when he visited the senator as one of many courtesy calls on Capitol Hill after his nomination. “I went home, read the whole thing, and I appreciate it,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s a good model of judicial independence, a great story about someone who was a judge in the South in the civil rights era who stood firm for the rule of law.”

Durbin seemed appreciative of Kavanaugh’s comments and joked that “obviously, the Nationals weren’t playing” that night. (Kavanaugh is a Nationals season-ticket holder, and faced scrutiny over the summer for how much debt he racked up for his seats.)

Amid laughter, the questioning passed on to the friendlier Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

 

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