Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Kavanaugh Confirmation Vote Delayed by #MeToo

Judge Kavanaugh. Chief Justice John Roberts has recognized that, quote, "the judicial branch is not immune" end quote, from the widespread problem of sexual harassment and assault and has taken steps to address this issue. As part of my responsibility as a member of this committee to ensure the fitness of nominees for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench, I ask each nominee two questions. First question for you: since you became a legal adult have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature?
Senator Maisie Hirono, D-Hawaii, asked this of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing on Sept. 5 2018. Judge Kavanaugh answered without hesitation. "No," he said.

A week later, news broke of an accusation that he sexually assaulted a girl when they were both at school in the 1980s. The accuser had reported the incident via a tip-line in early July, asking that her identity be kept secret. The complaint had made its way to Senator Feinstein, who honored that request. Somehow, unbeknownst to the Senator, the story was leaked, although initially the accuser's identity was still unknown.

Kavanaugh denied the accusations hotly. But in twelve days what started out as a flicker of a problem for him and those who want him confirmed erupted into a firestorm, driven by what is now the considerable heft of #MeToo.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University who teaches clinical psychology to graduates in a consortium with Standford University, decided to come out publicly with her accusation, in an explosive interview with the Washington Post. She alleged that 17 year-old Brett Kavanaugh and a friend of his, Mark Judge, both highly intoxicated, corralled her into a bedroom at a party, locked the door and turned up the music. Kavanaugh then pinned her down and tried to strip her and force himself on her, covering her mouth to prevent her from screaming or calling for help. Ford was 15 years old and feared that Kavanaugh might inadvertently kill her. She alleged that Judge kept calling out, first saying "go for it" then "stop". She managed to escape, and tried, unsuccessfully to bury the trauma, until 2012, when she revealed what had happened, in therapy sessions.

Mr. Kavanaugh again denied the allegations, saying he had never met Dr. Ford, and was willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in defense of his integrity. Unfortunately for him, Dr. Blasey Ford also said she would testify. Adding weight to her credibility is that in August, at the suggestion of her lawyer Debra Katz, she took and passed a polygraph, administered by an FBI official. 

For a few days Senate Republicans doggedly stood by their man and insisted that the confirmation vote on Thursday would go through. Even the two moderate Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski were tight lipped, despite huge pressure having already been brought to bear on them from their female constituents to reject Mr. Kavanaugh. A crowdsourcing campaign set up by some Maine voters vowing to support Senator Collins' opponent in 2020 if she votes for Mr. Kavanaugh, has raised over $1.3m. Senator Murkowski has repeatedly been reminded of her tweet calling for Sen. Al Franken's resignation for a far less severe allegation. 
Senator Murkowski hasn't felt the same about Mr. Kavanaugh. It seemed frustratingly clear that he and those who desperately want him in the Supreme Court were banking on the "who cares?" precedent set by the response to Anita Hill's accusations against then Judge Clarence Thomas. Who is now an Associate Justice.

A lot of people believed Ms. Hill's version of events and cared deeply, but they didn't have enough power to halt that confirmation.

Much has changed since then. This confirmation is taking place in the midst of a #MeToo revolution, and the court of public opinion has developed real political power, making it impossible to sweep sexual misdeeds under the carpet, no matter how long ago they occurred. Yesterday, Republican Senators Flake and Cornyn said they would not be comfortable voting for Mr. Kavanaugh until this issue has been cleared up, and Sens. Collins and Murkowski said they wanted to hear both sides. Even Kellyanne Conway said that Dr. Ford should not be ignored, after Donald Trump Jr. mocked Dr. Ford in a tweet.  

It marked a turning point. Today news broke that the vote scheduled for Thursday has been postponed and that both Mr. Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey Ford will testify on Monday. It's a major triumph for every woman who's ever been assaulted. A triumph for justice and for functional democracy which requires that politicians listen to their constituents and truly represent their interests.

In his testimony Judge Kavanaugh can categorically deny that he assaulted Dr. Ford, and it will be his word against hers. That she's taken a polygraph of her own volition speaks volumes. Will Kavanaugh do the same? She's a credible person and over 200 women who know her have attested to her character.

Kavanaugh, however, has very recently and provably distanced himself from the truth in the hearings. 93% of his record was withheld for the confirmation hearings. His main witness to the alleged assault, Mark Judge, was by his own account an alcoholic at the time and often blind drunk. And of the 65 women who Republicans garnered to swear to Kavanaugh's character, before Blasey Ford went public, 7 have now reiterated their support, but 5 have declined to comment and dozens of others either declined to comment or could not be reached, according to Politico.

Whether Mr. Kavanaugh takes a polygraph or not, can he legitimately deny that he went through a period at a very permissive school when he drank a lot? He may want to be careful about categorical denials here, because there would have been plenty of witnesses. Once that cat is definitively out the bag, Mr. Kavanaugh's denial about the assault will be meaningless. He might believe he didn't assault Dr. Ford purely because he can't remember the night in question. The forthcoming testimony isn't a court of law, but already, judging by the backtracking coming from Republican Senators, circumstantial evidence is piling up to the point of being impossible to ignore.

And how many times have men guilty of assault, from Catholic priests to Hollywood celebrities to the current US President, claimed their innocence?

As the NYT editorial board noted, Mr. Kavanaugh has a questionable relationship with the truth. He got away with obfuscating it many times in the hearings because so much of his CV was withheld and because even when it was obvious that he was lying, Republicans didn't care. But it's doubtful that he can lie his way out of this one. Not because Republicans suddenly care about the truth, but because of the heft of #MeToo. Democracy in action.

Bravo to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. May she be well protected.