With Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s eligibility for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States at stake, his highly impassioned testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary last week sparked national debate as to whether or not the judge’s alleged sexual misconduct is reason to impede his nomination.
Christine Blasey Ford, Ph.D., is one of three women accusing her former high school classmate of sexual assault. In an emotional and compelling testimony, Ford recounted a situation which occurred in the early ‘80s when the two were in high school. She described “uproarious laughter” from Kavanaugh during the alleged assault and said she was “100 percent sure” he committed the attack.
“I denied the allegation immediately, categorically and unequivocally,” said Kavanaugh within the first few moments of his testimony, which set the stage for the rest of the charged deposition. The District of Columbia Circuit Court Judge went on to discuss various investigations which were carried out after the allegations first arose after his July nomination and said he feels that “there’s been a frenzy on the left” to block his confirmation process.
Some claim that Kavanaugh’s display of character during his hearing could put the Supreme Court’s legitimacy in danger should he be confirmed, including third-year political science major and College Democrats at CWRU President Leo Thuman.
“When I heard Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony, I did not believe he was as measured as he should be and that was somewhat indicative of a concerningly non-judicial temperament,” said Thuman. “I definitely believe he lied about some ridiculous things that he didn’t need to lie about, and that, in some ways, called a lot of his testimony into question.”
Lisa Nielson, Ph.D., Director of the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women, agreed with Thuman, citing her primary concern as “Kavanaugh’s inability to control his rage. Although a decidedly emotional and fraught situation,” she said, “my expectation for a Supreme Court justice is control in the face of conflict. He seemed to have lost control, didn’t ask for time to regroup, repeatedly interrupted the panel and did not answer questions directly.”
David Rodriguez, president of Case College Republicans, however, offered an alternative perspective on the potential nominee’s testimony, describing Kavanaugh’s opening remarks as “passionate.”
“Throughout the hearing, he strongly defended his character, his treatment of women and his record as a judge,” he said. “As the afternoon wore on, I grew more confident that he was not the type of person [who would commit sexual assault]. Until more evidence is brought forward, I strongly support his nomination to the Supreme Court as a judge [who] abides by the constitution.”
Following the heated Sept. 27 hearing, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona played a key role in initiating an FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate will vote on his nomination this week, regardless of what the FBI probe finds and whenever it comes. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina added that if the process fails, President Donald Trump should attempt to nominate him again.
Kavanaugh would be Trump’s second Supreme Court appointment since taking office as the Republican presidential candidate. Given the current ideological division of the nation’s top court, which is evenly split between liberal and conservative justices, Kavanaugh’s confirmation would shift the bench to a concrete right.
Leaving partisan divides out of the conversation is inherently not possible at this point, an issue which Rodriguez believes is impacting the nomination process. He explained that certain conditions, including the manner of Ford’s questioning, are crossing the parameters of party lines, making both Ford and Kavanaugh “victims of this stressful hearing, [which] could have been avoided if brought up earlier in what seemed to be used for political gains.”
“Democrats, during [Ford’s] hearing, used their time to express how brave she was to come forward, why they believed her and why Kavanaugh shouldn’t be on the Supreme Court,” added Rodriguez. “During Kavanaugh’s hearing, both [parties] fought hard for their side. For Republicans, I found Graham’s remarks on the entire hearing especially powerful.”
Regardless of party divisions, each testimony has brought the spotlight on a much greater issue: public attitude towards sexual misconduct. Following the hearing, many felt that Kavanaugh’s testimony was accusatory towards Ford and that he undermined her narrative with his heated response.
“I think it is so disgusting and disheartening that we force survivors to be strong and poised when they should be grieving,” said second-year student Jasmine Cuenca, who felt empowered by Ford’s testimony and described her demeanor as “poised and strong.”
“She has nothing to gain by [speaking publicly], but I think doing so makes her a true patriot,” said Cuenca.
Nielson believes that public response to each testimony spoke to a greater discussion on sexual violence and that a deficiency in our sexual education system fails to effectively put such information on the table.
“I’ve spoken with many students at CWRU over the years, and they rarely have such education in school,” said Nielson. “They arrive uncertain about alcohol tolerances, what consent means and how to negotiate healthy relationships, whether they are intimate or not. As a result, we force our young people to make it up as they go along. That sex is stigmatized still, people don’t know how to talk about it or address violence.”
Cuenca expressed disappointment with the campus community’s lack of responsiveness to the subject matter of last week’s testimonies. With hopes to educate students living in campus housing, Cuenca, a resident assistant, made her monthly bulletin board topic “consent.” The board is displayed in the hallway of her floor and is intended to educate her residents on a different subject each month.
“I would have liked to see more support from the university in terms of offering support and sharing resources with students,” she said. “I do think it is imperative that [CWRU] offer solidarity to students.”
She continued, “We are a CWRU community, which means faculty and staff must be understanding of this past week’s events and cognizant of how students are handling these circumstances. As a campus community, we need to look out for each other.”
Nielson emphasized the societal and cultural implications of the hearings on the topics of sexual violence and assault, calling the question of Kavanaugh’s confirmation one of “moral will.”
She said, “The backlash to how young men are being portrayed has horrified men, too. Just as we have seen several women questioned about their experiences, we are seeing all young men lumped into a deviant, ‘boys will be boys’ category. Perhaps the bigger conversation is that if Kavanaugh is confirmed, after all of this, what message does it send to the nation?”
According to Rodriguez, the issue in question was not the nature of Kavanaugh’s response to Ford, but the truthfulness of her accusations against him. In his testimony, Kavanaugh repeatedly denied her claims, citing high school friends who spoke out against him yet could not recall who Kavanaugh was nor this specific incident.
“I believe anyone wrongly accused of sexual assault with uncorroborated facts to back it up would react in this way,” said Rodriguez. “His reputation and family have been wrongly hurt since Ford’s allegations have been leaked.”
He cited other observations which led him to hold this opinion: “As a very hard working student, with a strong religious faith life, he acted in ways that most high school [or] college kids do. He was not afraid to say that he did drink but never got to the point that he every blacked out or made bad decisions. By being truthful in how he was back then, along with signed testimony from many women he knew from school, he provided much more evidence that he was not the culprit of this sexual assault allegation.”
Rodriguez said that “unless the FBI investigation reveals new information,” he does not feel that the tone of the hearing should prevent Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“While I don’t want to dismiss these very serious sexual assault allegations,” he said, “I don’t think there is enough evidence to prove that Kavanaugh did this to [Ford] and deny him a seat on the Supreme Court.”
Rodriguez think the allegations must be looked at more in depth, and the “tense partisan nature of the hearings” has blurred the lines of public opinion. Thuman also felt the tense nature of the hearings complicates public response.
“A lot of [young people] seem to be, regardless of who they are more inclined to believe, sick of the theatricality and lack of professionalism exhibited in these hearings,” he said. “I commonly hear objections to the Republican dismissal of [Ford’s] accusations as chauvinistic and tone-deaf, which I agree with wholeheartedly. I hear many express a view that some questions asked of [Kavanaugh] concern minute details of his social life with no direct connection to serious allegations against him, and I agree on some level with this.”
He thinks the issue will, nonetheless, result in Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“I think he’ll probably be confirmed after the miserably short one week [FBI] investigation ends. Having someone as conservative on the court as Kavanaugh is crucial for the Republicans to maintain a future say in government over the next 40 plus years, considering demographic shifts projected to be unfavorable to them,” said Thuman. “It’s a life or death battle for their party in the long run.”