Another #MeToo Moment at the Supreme Court
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Another #MeToo Moment at the Supreme Court

An Accusation of a High School Assault May Upend the Republicans’ Efforts to Rush Through the Kavanaugh Nomination

No one should be surprised about what’s happening with Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Oh, you can be surprised that the key event turns out to be a report of sexual misconduct from his youth, but not about the manner of the skirmish over what to do about it.

For weeks, the Senate has made clear that this confirmation is a matter of partisan politics, not judicial suitability. In a nutshell, Republicans have been rushing approval through, and Democrats have been scratching the earth with issues large and small, provable or even questionable in a vain attempt to slow the vote.

And now we have the problem set forth by one woman, totally credible, two years younger than Kavanaugh, who wrote a letter, and now has stepped forward, offering supportive therapist’s notes from 2012 and a positive lie-detector test, that she had a #MeToo moment with a drunk, high school-aged Kavanaugh, who insists that it never happened.

Of course, if he was drunk at the time, he may never know what happened. Or he may be covering up – for an action then that would sink his candidacy in this #MeToo age.

One woman challenger, one man denier, one incident three decades old, and one major headache for a nominee whose confirmation hangs by one or two votes in the Senate.

One woman challenger, one man denier, one incident three decades old and one major headache for a nominee whose confirmation hangs by one or two votes in the Senate. All that lies in the balance is the next generation of decisions on abortion, affirmative action, voter rights, civil rights, health care and worker and consumer rights from a lifetime originalist appointee whose decisions always seem to come up with a lean toward the most politically conservative outcome.

For those of us who appreciate truly squirmy situations for Congress, this is a holiday. For those who like nicely ordered, truly open, bipartisan debate over national issues, this is another sad moment.

Actually, this disclosure, which California professor Christine Blasey Ford said came in the 1980s when a drunken Kavanaugh tried to pull off her bathing suit, pinning her down while holding his hand over her mouth. Ford said she remained traumatized enough about the event that she brought it up in therapy in 2012. Kavanaugh has categorically denied the accusation.

It’s a charge that strikes at the heart of Kavanaugh’s strength – his personal character. He, and other witnesses, offered testimony to show him a wonderful family man, a coach, a champion for women and minority hires as clerks, a volunteer in the public schools. Of course, Democrats also found that he was misleading at best, if not lying, about having received stolen emails from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), misspoken at best, about describing birth control as among anti-abortion treatments, and curiously unable to explain gambling debts, among other financial issues.

Republican senators may resist an inquiry into Ford’s allegations, but it raises an important issue of trust and belief in women.

“Now, it’s a test of what it looks like to believe women. And how we decide what we believe. It’s a test of whether, in the past year, we’ve learned anything at all,” wrote Monica Hesse, who covers gender issues for The Washington Post. Regardless of what to do with the allegation, “In other words, believe women when they tell stories of assault and harassment. Victims’ lives are rarely made easier by levying accusations against powerful perpetrators, which means that if a woman has come forward, she’s probably doing so at personal cost. So, believe her. At the very least, give her the dignity of considering her claims.”

Of course, no one knows the truth of this allegation, and it is old and it is hard to see how it gets resolved easily. Well, nobody but Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who just blurted out that the woman must be mixing up the saintly Kavanaugh with someone else.

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus caught the moment: “The urgency is to investigate, not to rush to confirm a lifetime appointment. Surely a few Republican senators retain enough sense of institutional responsibility to insist on that — if not because it is clearly the right thing to do, because in the era of #MeToo, their female constituents will not tolerate such rug-sweeping.”

A few do – Republican Senators Bob Corker, Jeff Flake and Susan Collins. But the general reaction, including the White House’s, is to deny and demand that the confirmation proceed as quickly as possible. Actually, the president himself sounded unusually restrained, saying the process might take a little longer.

Marcus added, “These are allegations that, if true, constitute some form of criminal sexual assault, which makes them, as my colleague Jennifer Rubin has pointed out, inherently more serious than the sexual-harassment allegations, which were, of course, horrifying in their own way, involving Clarence Thomas. Yes, it was high school, but if you do something bad enough in high school, it can lose you your seat on the Supreme Court. And this, to me, constitutes bad enough, even if she managed to get away before worse happened.”

Ironically, it took only an allegation and photos of a strange prank for Republicans to demand the resignation of former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who sat on the Judiciary Committee and could now have been one of those pestering Kavanaugh with embarrassing questions.

Exactly what to do here is not my job. But ignoring the allegation is wrong. A hearing sounds more reasonable because there was a witness. But celebrating the public downfall of a Harvey Weinstein while defending a Brett Kavanaugh sounds a bit like shopping for a judge who will endorse a pre-ordained result.

How about Make America Listen.

Featured image: Participants in the “living display” hold up signs during the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month kickoff event at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., April 1, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Denise M. Nevins/Released)

September 19, 2018