The U.S. Supreme Court cafeteria on Friday was surprisingly quiet, as if noontime eaters were subdued by the Brett Kavanaugh nomination drama playing out at the Senate Judiciary Committee. Outside on the steps of the august building, hundreds of protesters listened to speeches by women senators urging Kavanaugh be rejected. The peaceful but passionate demonstrators waved signs proclaiming “Stop Kavanaugh,” “Believe in Women,” and “Kava (insert picture) nope.” In the warm autumn sun they chanted “Whose court? Our court!” and “wait till November.”
We’re in the grip of a momentous decision that, for the next half century, will affect the lives of all Americans, especially of women. Not surprisingly then, a majority of Jet Blue passengers going from Boston to D.C. on Thursday morning were glued to the televised Christine Blasey Ford testimony on the seat-back monitors in front of them. As I listened to her riveting testimony on CBS, the man next to me was watching on Fox. We didn’t share reactions. My eyes were misting as she described her remembered experience.
Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony struck a particularly responsive chord when she said, “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two . . . I was underneath one of them while the two laughed.” This comment reached deep into the heart of any woman who has ever suffered humiliation from two misogynous men having a sneering and callous laugh at her expense, with or without sexual assault. Not surprisingly, calls to rape crisis centers have doubled in the wake of Blasey Ford’s testimony.
This situation is so much more than “he said, she said,” and reams have been written about Blasey Ford’s unsophisticated authenticity and Kavanaugh’s duplicitous inconsistencies. Kavanaugh denies ever attending gatherings like that described by Blasey Ford or others described by Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez, who also claims grossly inappropriate sexual behavior by the nominee. Numerous writers have cited instances of his apparent lying about his heavy drinking in high school and college, his receipt in 2003 of stolen Democrats’ emails, the meaning of language used in his high school year book. The issue goes beyond whether Kavanaugh drank too much or illegally in his youth and committed sexual assaults to whether he lied under oath and covered up.
What’s equally disturbing about Kavanaugh’s suitability for lifetime tenure on the Supreme Court is the lack of judicial temperament he displayed during his Friday return to the Judiciary Committee. While I understand the stress these accusations have put on his family and him, he came across as a well coached snorting cauldron of partisan rage. He railed against the Democrats and called the gathering accusations an expression of Hillary Clinton’s revenge. Really? Whatever his acuity as a legal scholar, we can rightly question his ability to sit on the nation’s highest court as an independent and fair-minded justice.
I’m not saying that every woman who alleges sexual assault is automatically right, but her allegations should be treated seriously. The Republican majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee gave lip service to this while making clear that virtually nothing would deter them from approving Kavanaugh. Even Arizona Senator Jeff Flake admits his temporary profile in courage – making his upcoming floor vote contingent upon an FBI investigation – would never have happened if he were facing reelection. The eventual fate of the nomination probably now rests with a much beleaguered FBI doing a responsible investigation. Still, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said today there will be a vote by the end of this week. As former FBI director James Comey said, “If truth were the only goal, there would be no clock.”
Kavanaugh was right about one thing, that the confirmation process has been “a national disgrace.” But not for the reasons he suggests. The advice and counsel role of the Senate has been hijacked for raw partisan reasons, with no openness to new information bearing on the nominee’s suitability. Those who had refused even to meet with Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland have been hell-bent to rush through Kavanaugh irrespective of the warning lights.
At stake are decades of decisions on wide-ranging issues, and no promise of the fair application of longstanding judicial principles. It’s sobering to consider that, even if Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins rise to the occasion, and Democrats from red states hold firm – and even if the Democrats take the Senate in November – the current Senate could ram through a new Supreme Court nominee like right-to-life zealot Amy Barrett in a lame duck session. To all those who stayed home in 2016, or refused to support Hillary Clinton because she was a deeply flawed candidate, this is a reminder that elections have consequences.
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