After rumors earlier this week regarding Brett Kavanaugh’s behavior in high school towards a female peer, the formerly anonymous woman has now come foward to the Washington Post with more details. Despite these new details, the vote on Kavanaugh is currently still scheduled for Thursday. However, this situation requires delicate and careful handling; if Kavanaugh does not withdraw his name, the vote should be delayed while the claims are investigated.
According to the Post, Christine Blasey Ford says during high school, a “stumbling drunk” Kavanaugh groped her, attempted to pull off her clothing, and held his hand over her mouth. She says she broke free after the other man in the room jumped on top of the two. She says she discussed the incident in therapy in 2012 and 2013, and her therapist’s notes were provided to the Post, as were the results of a polygraph test (which are notoriously unreliable).
The Post reported today that Ford, a California professor and registered Democrat, first reached out to the Post at the beginning of July after Kavanaugh’s name was floated as a replacement for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy; a few weeks later, she followed up with a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
When rumors of an accusation first began swirling, it seemed irresponsible to defend or criticize Kavanaugh because so little information was available, and an anonymous accusation was difficult to verify. However, it seemed clear more information would eventually come out, at which point we could respond accordingly.
Now that we have more information than just an anonymous accusation – such as the accuser’s name, as well as corroborating notes from the therapist (although there were some discrepancies between the therapist’s notes and Ford’s account) – it is my belief Kavanaugh should withdraw his name from consideration for the sake of the Court and its legitimacy.
This does not mean Kavanaugh is guilty. To be clear, he would deserve due process if he were charged with a crime — but he has not been arrested, and this is not playing out in a court room.
But his nomination is not to an obscure government agency; it is to one of nine seats for the Supreme Court, the highest court in our country and the top of the judiciary branch of the government.
And one of the most significant issues facing our country today is that the Court is considered as important and polarized as it is; at least one member of Congress, Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), has lamented the “fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the Supreme Court in American life now.” Neither party is entirely innocent of politicizing or de-legitimizing the Court (such as the erroneous claim that Merrick Garland’s “seat” was “stolen”), but it is imperative we take actions whenever possible to maintain the Court’s legitimacy. We cannot continue to degrade the trust in our institutions.
If Kavanaugh chooses not to withdraw his name, then an attempt to thoroughly investigate the accusation should be completed – and the Senate should wait to hold the vote until after an investigation.
It would hurt the legitimacy of the Supreme Court to force a confirmation through when there appears to be a serious and credible accusation without an attempt to investigate the claims (since, admittedly, it would not be the easiest to investigate, since Ford does not remember some details, and it has been 35 years). A nomination to the Supreme Court deserves to be treated seriously, and we should take care to always keep in mind the legitimacy of, and trust in, our institutions.
Should an investigation determine Ford’s accusation is indeed inadequate, this would then strengthen the Republicans’ position; they would be able to credibly argue they let an investigation proceed and the accusation was found dubious. This argument would be bolstered by the fact that the FBI did not open a criminal investigation upon receipt of the accusation (although Feinstein did apparently redact information).
Should an investigation determine Ford’s accusation is credible, or if Kavanaugh does withdraw, it is worth remembering Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) didn’t want to nominate Kavanaugh and the Federalist Society has a list of acceptable judges that could be nominated instead, including Amy Coney Barrett. And, though some may argue any Republican nominee would be subjected to possible smears and false accusations, it is also worth remembering Neil Gorsuch did not have any women come forward about him.
Before Ford went public with her name, I found it dangerous to set a precedent of using an anonymous accusation that couldn’t be investigated or verified; even now, some may argue it is a “he said, she said” situation.
However, we must maintain the credibility and legitimacy of the Court, and Democrats would use Kavanaugh to discredit any decisions under a Supreme Court that includes Kavanaugh; indeed, Democrats may use Kavanaugh to challenge the validity of the Supreme Court itself. That is not a risk we can be willing to take.
It is understandable that many have questions about how these accusations came to light. For example, it’s unusual that Feinstein chose not to question Kavanaugh under oath regarding any past behavior. And it’s certainly reasonable to suspect that the timing of the leaking was politically charged, since the leaking occurred after the hearing concluded. It is currently unknown who leaked the accusation, but doing so after the hearing was disgraceful in general, and leaking it at all was particularly disrespectful to the victim, who reportedly had not yet decided to come forward publicly.
Regardless, the timing alone does not invalidate the accusation. The claims must be investigated as much as is possible, and Republicans should allow an investigation before they proceed with a vote. Doing anything less only risks de-legitimizing the Court.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.