After sexual assault allegations, U.S. Senate’s speedy Kavanaugh confirmation must come to a screeching halt

September 19, 2018 6:00 am

To this point, everything about Brett Kavanaugh – from his indoctrination in Kenneth Starr’s Clinton probe, to his efforts to quash the Florida recount in the 2000 Bush v. Gore presidential race, to his contentious appointment to the D.C. circuit Court of Appeals in 2003, in which one Democrat derided the Maryland lawyer the “Forrest Gump of Republican politics,” and finally to his raucous confirmation hearings before the Senate this summer – has been mired in partisanship.

But that should end here. There’s no place for rank partisanship here. Not after Sunday’s Washington Post story, which put a face and a name to the roiling accusations of sexual misconduct leveled against President Trump’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Top-brass Republicans are scrambling to allow for at least a small delay in their rush to confirm Kavanaugh, perhaps allowing for testimony next week from Christine Blasey Ford, a California college professor and clinical psychology instructor who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school party more than 35 years ago while his buddy, Mark Judge, looked on.

According to Ford’s telling in The Post story, a drunken Kavanaugh “pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.”

GOP leaders are determined to assure conservative dominion over the nation’s high court before this fall’s midterm elections, but any rush now to christen Kavanaugh – without comprehensive vetting of Ford’s stunning account – would mark a noxious new low in D.C.

Ford spoke after months of private anguish over the personal turmoil she and her family would endure to tell her story, the paper wrote. But in recent days, as reporters began to connect the brewing story with a letter Ford penned this summer to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ford said her civic duty overwhelmed her fears.

She tells a disturbingly different story of Kavanaugh, a D.C.-circuit Court of Appeals judge exalted by Trump Monday for never having even “a little blemish on his record.”

At the time of Ford’s account, she would have been 15, a sophomore at Holton-Arms School, an all-girls prep school in Bethesda, Maryland. Kavanaugh would have been 17, a student at Georgetown Prep, a prestigious Catholic school in Bethesda that he attended with Judge, now a conservative author and columnist with a history of worrisome views on sex and gender.

From The Washington Post’s Sunday report:

Ford said that on the night of the party, she left the family room to use the bathroom, which was at the top of a narrow stairway. She doesn’t remember whether Kavanaugh and Judge were behind her or already upstairs, but she remembers being pushed into a bedroom and then onto a bed. Rock-and-roll music was playing with the volume turned up high, she said.

She alleges that Kavanaugh — who played football and basketball at Georgetown Prep — held her down with the weight of his body and fumbled with her clothes, seemingly hindered by his intoxication. Judge stood across the room, she said, and both boys were laughing “maniacally.” She said she yelled, hoping that someone downstairs would hear her over the music, and Kavanaugh clapped his hand over her mouth to silence her.

At one point, she said, Judge jumped on top of them, and she tried unsuccessfully to wriggle free. Then Judge jumped on them again, toppling them, and she broke away, she said.

She said she locked herself in the bathroom and listened until she heard the boys “going down the stairs, hitting the walls.” She said that after five or 10 minutes, she unlocked the door and made her way through the living room and outside. She isn’t sure how she got home.”

Some Republicans and the Trump White House suggest Ford’s story is part of a newly-hatched liberal conspiracy to undermine conservative control of the nation’s high court, but Ford – who passed a polygraph test this August at the urging of her attorney – reportedly told her story multiple times since 2012 during therapy sessions, according to notes provided to The Post.

Kavanaugh and Judge have emphatically denied the accusations, even as members of the influential Senate committee fumble to explain plans to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination anyway.

Recall that GOP senators balked at former President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination in the last year of his presidency, even as some appear willing to stomach a nominee accused of sexual assault without thoroughly unearthing the facts.

Meanwhile, Trump, who’s troubled by credible claims of his own alleged sexual misconduct, stands behind Kavanaugh.

It goes without saying that the nomination comes at a critical time for the conservative movement, which seeks to set sweeping court precedents on abortion rights, religion in government and more.

Not one scrap of that should matter. Not to you, not to me, not to the leaders of our political parties, and certainly not to the lawmakers who have the power to advance a lifetime appointment for Kavanaugh.

Lawmakers should be reminded that our so-called “MeToo moment” is likely more than a moment. MeToo, and its broader implications for gender equality, will survive their terms in public office.

Ford’s attorney has indicated the California professor may be willing to talk to the Senate committee, and Kavanaugh says he will answer questions about the case.

That’s a start. Ford should be heard. So should Kavanaugh, Judge, and anyone else who may have information about that night in 1982. And any politicians who would proceed without considerable due diligence are casting a vote to hear Kavanaugh’s voice above that of the woman who claims to have been so crudely violated 36 years ago.

They would ask for women, one more time, to suffer a powerful man’s ascension over a woman’s alleged trauma. Indeed, a sizable segment of the United States did not listen in 2016 when numerous women accused then-candidate Trump of groping and kissing them against their will.

We may never know who’s telling the truth in the case of Kavanaugh and Ford, but conservative pleas to steamroll Ford’s claims – like a particularly repellent Wall Street Journal editorial Tuesday morning – are ill-informed and offensive.

Disregarding these claims because they allegedly occurred three decades ago is a disservice to our country. In Maryland, where Kavanaugh is accused, there is no statute of limitations – legally or morally – for sexual assault.

And those who slam Ford for not speaking out sooner gravely underestimate the personal and professional consequences for women who choose to go public on such issues, even today, in an era where the “Me Too” movement has shaken a laundry list of powerful figures in politics and entertainment.

They overlook the targeted harassment and smears women endure, particularly those who accuse powerful men like Kavanaugh with all the force of the White House behind them, a bully pulpit if there ever was one.

And they discount the lasting trauma for victims of sexual assault, trauma that often compels them to endure the psychological effects in silence. Ford told The Washington Post her alleged encounter with Kavanaugh left her struggling with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and that it “derailed” her academically and socially for three or four years.

Failing to probe Ford’s serious and credible allegations – as senators consider a lifetime appointment to the country’s high court, a position with vast influence, one where Kavanaugh would sit as one of the nation’s chief moral authorities – amounts to little more than plugging your ears with your fingers.

And with Republicans sniping that there’s no place for a “he said, she said” battle in one of the most high-stakes court confirmations of our lifetimes, party leaders, if they maintain their dogged defense of Kavanaugh, are saying quite clearly that their default position is, damn the details, to trust what “he said.”

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Billy Ball

Billy Ball, worked at NC Policy Watch from 2016 to 2020 — first as an education reporter and later as managing editor.