Sex assault claim clouds Kavanaugh nomination
Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court was thrown into jeopardy this week, after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were both high schoolers. In an interview with The Washington Post, Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist in Northern California, described how a “stumbling drunk” Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, cornered her in a bedroom during a house party in suburban Maryland in the summer of 1982. Kavanaugh was a 17-year-old student at the elite Georgetown Preparatory School at the time of the alleged incident; Blasey was 15. Blasey said that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and attempted to take off her clothes, holding his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming. “I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Blasey, now 51, said. She wriggled free, she said, after Judge jumped on top of them, sending them tumbling. Kavanaugh, 53, adamantly denied the allegations, saying, “I did not do this back in high school or at any time.” Judge called the accusations “nuts,” adding, “I never saw Brett act that way.”
Blasey initially contacted a Post tip line in early July, after Kavanaugh’s name appeared on a shortlist of possible nominees to replace retiring justice Anthony Kennedy. Later that month, after Kavanaugh was nominated by President Trump, Blasey shared her story in a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, asking the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee to keep her name confidential. Blasey decided to go public after reporters began contacting her about the letter last week. To corroborate her story, Blasey provided the Post with her therapist’s notes from 2012, when she discussed being assaulted by students “from an elitist boys’ school.”
Under pressure from moderate Republicans including Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Jeff Flake, Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley invited Kavanaugh and Blasey to testify next week, delaying a committee vote on his nomination. Through her lawyers, Blasey said she wants the FBI to investigate her claims before she testifies. President Trump questioned why Democrats didn’t bring the accusation forward sooner, but said hearings should go ahead to remove any doubt of Kavanaugh’s fitness for office. “This is a very tough thing for him and his family,” said Trump.
What the editorials said
Kavanaugh’s denials might be convincing if he “had a record of scrupulous honesty,” said The Boston Globe. “He doesn’t.” Kavanaugh repeatedly dodged questions about his record during his Senate confirmation hearings, even flirting with perjury while dissembling about his role in the Bush administration’s judicial nominations. “In contrast, Ford is a credible witness who has passed a polygraph examination.” The Senate must ask the FBI to investigate and track down any “witnesses who might be able to help fill in the details.” We need to get to the truth, no matter how long it takes.
Blasey is no doubt sincere in what she remembers, said The Wall Street Journal. “Yet there is no way to confirm her story after 36 years.” Her own memory of events is hazy. She can’t recall whose house the alleged assault took place in, for example, or how she got home. It’s fully possible this is a case of mistaken identity, or something else that can be explained by the “vagaries of memory.” It certainly doesn’t gel with what we know about Kavanaugh, who has a reputation for decency.
What the columnists said
It’s a sign of how credible Blasey seems that many Kavanaugh defenders are debating not whether her accusations are true, “but whether they are relevant,” said Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. Some insist that it’s unfair to judge a grown man for his youthful transgressions. “Should that deny us chances later in life?” asked former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer. It would be darkly fitting if Republicans force Kavanaugh’s nomination despite the cloud around him. The Supreme Court’s conservatives will finally be able to strip women of their constitutional right to an abortion, all because a president who has boasted about sexual assault nominated an “ex–frat boy credibly accused of attempted rape.”
“A simple accusation is, it appears, all that Democrats need to presume someone guilty,” said David Harsanyi in TheFederalist.com. In the #MeToo era, the only right thing for men to do is “surrender their right to due process or any kind of genuine defense.” Why is this all coming out now? asked Andrew McCarthy in NationalReview.com. Feinstein knew about this flimsy allegation for months and waited until the last possible moment to release it, probably hoping to push a confirmation vote until after the midterms. “This has all the hallmarks of a set-up.”
This “isn’t an eleventh-hour attack,” said Dahlia Lithwick in Slate.com. Blasey was understandably terrified to go public and only came forward after her story leaked to the press. It’s only the eleventh hour because Senate Republicans decided to force through this nomination at “light speed.” Blasey has already been forced to move out of her home after her address was posted online, said Elise Viebeck in The Washington Post. Since then, she’s received a flood of death threats and harrassing messages, forcing her to hire private security. Blasey “thought her life would be upended. She was right.”
Republicans have framed next week’s hearings as a “take-it-or-leave-it opportunity” for Blasey, said Z. Byron Wolf in CNN.com. If she doesn’t show up, “there’s a decent chance Republicans could rally around Kavanaugh and confirm him.” But if Kavanaugh’s nomination falters, it will be almost impossible to confirm another justice before the midterm elections. Should Democrats retake the Senate, they might even be able to keep the seat open until 2021, the nightmare scenario for the GOP. “Kavanaugh does not have a deep reservoir of public goodwill to draw upon as he struggles to salvage his nomination to the highest court in the land,” said James Hohmann in The Washington Post. Only 38 percent of the country says he should be confirmed, the weakest public support for any Supreme Court nominee since Robert Bork failed to get on the court in 1987.
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from Getty (2), Newscom ■