Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) made a surprisingly sensible decision this week. Under mounting pressure from senators of both parties, he will call U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh before the committee for a public hearing on Monday to testify on a sexual assault he allegedly committed 36 years ago. This delays Thursday’s planned vote within the Judiciary Committee to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination.
The White House’s bid to confirm Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court seemed all but certain to succeed just a week ago, until the confirmation process was thrown into turmoil by California professor Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that a “stumbling drunk” teenage Kavanaugh forced himself upon her at a party more than three and a half decades ago. Ford has requested a FBI investigation of the incident before she testifies.
Some Republicans have already bleated about the “unfair” nature of the supposedly “eleventh-hour character assassination” and dismissed allegations out of hand that are decades old. This is far from surprising from the all-male Republican majority on the Judiciary Committee. Sure, they may dearly love and be intimately connected to the women in their lives, but I can hear the narrative that is likely running through the heads of those who have called to push full steam ahead with Kavanaugh’s confirmation: “If it happened at all, it was 36 years ago and he was just a high school kid. He was drunk and grabbed a girl — who among us hasn’t done that? Really, you’re going to wreck his career over him behaving like a typical teenage boy?” Maybe. Now that there are more specifics and a public accuser, advancing the nomination proceedings with undue haste would be a grave mistake.
Ford first shared her account of the assault in early July via a secret letter to her Congresswoman, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). In late July, she sent the letter via Eshoo’s office to Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who showed the letter to federal investigators.
A paucity of forensic evidence complicates the state of affairs, but certain facts add credibility to Ford’s report — for example, she told her husband of the incident during therapy in 2012 and passed a polygraph test in August of this year. Her description of the event is specific, detailed and (if true) damning.
According to Ford’s originally-anonymous letter, Kavanaugh physically pushed Ford into a bedroom and attempted to pull off her one-piece swimsuit and the clothing she wore over it while a male friend watched. “They locked the door and played loud music, precluding any successful attempt to yell for help,” she claimed. “With Kavanaugh’s hand over my mouth I feared he may inadvertently kill me.”
Kavanaugh has already denied the accusation unconditionally. “This is a completely false allegation,” he said in a statement. “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone.”
According to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), he later doubled down on his denial by claiming that he had not attended the party in the first place — a party wherein not even Ford recalled the precise date or location. It is remarkable how Kavanaugh could recall so little of his years as a George W. Bush administration official in hearings but can so clearly conjure up a party he didn’t attend sometime in high school.
It will not be easy to ascertain what exactly happened those many years ago. It will be even more difficult to judge the relevance of those events, whatever they were, to a confirmation vote 36 years later. But no matter what, Kavanaugh must respond to questions about the assault under oath. If Ford’s account is true, Kavanaugh dare not commit perjury and imperil his place on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
As for Ford, her decision not to testify until the FBI reopens its background check on Kavanaugh is entirely sensible. She has already faced death threats and her family has been forced to relocate from their home, so concern for her family’s safety naturally precludes the extensive preparation that her testimony will eventually require. Furthermore, it’s unreasonable to expect Ford to testify in public in front of two dozen senators and the man who once tried to rape her. Ford and her lawyers have already asserted that they plan to cooperate with the Judiciary Committee and with law enforcement.
There is no reason why the same senators who stonewalled President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court for 293 days and denied him even the dignity of a hearing should be in any particular rush to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy’s empty spot on the bench before any artificial deadline.
The absence of biological or other additional corroborating evidence more than 30 years later will make “proving” whether the incident occurred extremely difficult, however.
It’s also quite possible that the hearings won’t prevent Kavanaugh from being confirmed, even though all it would take to stop him would be one brave Republican along the lines of Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) or Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Who knows? Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who sits on the Judiciary Committee, has nothing to lose on the eve of his retirement and may even back up courageous words with courageous action. However, the low likelihood of any of the three of them realistically defecting doesn’t diminish the importance of conducting the most thorough investigation possible of these serious and credible allegations.
If Kavanaugh’s flat-out denial is not truthful, there is no way that someone who lied to the American people about sexual assault should serve on the second most senior court in the United States, much less reach the U.S. Supreme Court — a court where the principles and discretion of nine people determine momentous cases that change all of our lives.
As a die-hard Democrat, there are a litany of reasons why I don’t support Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Partisanship aside, all that matters now is stringent adherence to truth. The fullness of time does not in any way allay Kavanaugh’s culpability. There is no urgency to confirm a lifetime appointment — instead, urgency must be reserved for the dogged pursuit of justice.