For weeks, Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing has dominated the news. During the process, Christine Blasey Ford came forward with an accusation of sexual assault that occurred while the two were in high school. It immediately shifted the tone of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s debate and soon pervaded opinion columns, law journals and classroom discussions nationwide.
Just ahead of the full Senate vote to confirm Kavanaugh, opinions on the subject remain divided. But these disagreements are not purely partisan, as conversation within the Editorial Board revealed. Due to these split conclusions, this week’s editorial will feature the rationales of the two positions that emerged.
Ford was sufficiently credible
How credible is an account of an incident that occurred nearly 30 years ago? As Christine Blasey Ford demonstrated with her testimony, very much so.
Since her allegations first entered the mainstream, Ford has been facing counter accusations of opportunism, partisanship and a general lack of believability. When she spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee, her critics honed in on details she couldn’t recall, specifically pointing out her inability to remember exactly where she was or how she got there. They posited that for Kavanaugh’s assault to be deeply traumatic, or have even occurred, everything should be as clear now as it was then.
Not only is this expectation unreasonable, but it’s also plainly disingenuous.
It is fair to expect someone to back up major accusations, especially considering the timing in this case. But Ford did provide as much evidence as she could to defend her claims, including notes from a therapy session that took place years before Kavanaugh’s nomination. Not to mention, she subjected herself to a Committee hearing that was nationally televised, incurring scrutiny beyond the scope of the Senate representatives. It is difficult to disclose past trauma in private settings, yet Ford was able to do so while keeping herself collected. In these ways, she greatly bolstered her own believability while also setting the stage for Kavanaugh’s testimony.
It was at this point, when Kavanaugh finally had an opportunity to directly respond in the context of his hearing, that the balance of credibility tipped in Ford’s favor. Kavanaugh’s defense, for the most part, amounted to a tantrum where he loudly claimed a liberal conspiracy theory to undermine his family and career. He referred to the entire process as a “national disgrace” and cut off several senators’ questions. All the while, he appeared to be in denial about his past drinking, an area that has been a cause for concern since his high school and college days first entered the conversation.
Regardless of the doubt this casts over his ability to be a Supreme Court Justice, it made one fact clear: Kavanaugh is not trustworthy. And yet, Ford has continued to be vilified as a partisan hack seeking to block a nomination.
The entire situation reveals the reality of “she said/he said” scenarios in the United States. In a number of contexts—on this campus for example—allegations of sexual assault will go unreported or be restricted to a circle of the victim’s confidants. This is because even if they know they can credibly support the claim, they will face insurmountable doubt minimizing their trauma in favor of the perpetrator’s life.
It’s the reason why the #MeToo movement exists in the first place, and it’s the reason why we choose to believe Ford rather than Kavanaugh. Not because we’re simply liberals who hate conservatives, feminists who hate all men or just sycophants of the mainstream media.
We’ve seen these types of incidents occur in our own lives and may have in the past chosen to take either no side or action.
The precedent needs to be set that credible allegations of sexual assault against men can outweigh their belligerent appeals to emotion. Especially, when that precedent affects not just high-stakes political job interviews but communities and campuses across the country as well.
Kavanaugh deserves a proper investigation
At its core, Kavanaugh’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee was meant to evaluate his professional qualifications for a seat on the Supreme Court. Ford’s allegations certainly diverted the process from this goal.
Her accusations shifted the conversation from Kavanaugh’s extensive judicial record. Not only did he attend Yale Law School, one of the most prestigious law schools in the nation, he served on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most important circuit courts in the entire nation. Throughout his career, he has proven that he possesses the legal expertise and experience needed in order to serve on the United States’ highest court.
But for the most part, this aspect of his life has not been the center of discussion. Rather than thoroughly covering his decisions, legal principles or political beliefs, the nation has focused in on whether Judge Kavanaugh committed an act of sexual assault.
To be fair, a position on the Supreme Court is not isolated to personal legal principles and separated from moral considerations. Personal ethics factor into legal decision-making, especially when it comes to intricate cases such as Roe v. Wade. The problem with the way Kavanaugh has been evaluated, however, is that those who oppose him have taken questioning of his morals as proof of his immorality. It has bled into how people believe he will draw his legal opinions, throwing gas on the fire the accusations had already ignited.
In addition, this series of events has not just upended Kavanaugh’s hearing; it’s affected his entire life and how he is generally perceived.
These repercussions have arisen without any concrete evidence to support the accusations against him. Whether or not you consider Ford’s testimony to be credible, she couldn’t describe a number of critical details surrounding the incident, including where it even occurred. There is simply not enough corroboration or substantial evidence at this time to support her allegations.
Serious accusations should be taken seriously, which means there also needs to be thorough investigation. But if an extensive probe does not provide any clarity in the form of hard, undeniable evidence, the case and its foundational claims must be dismissed.
Accepting accusations of sexual assault without any fair investigation is not a precedent that the United States, or Case Western Reserve University for that matter, can adopt. The Kavanaugh-Ford situation echoes the problems with Title IX accusations that have surfaced in recent years. Due process mandates the adequate examination of any and all claims of a transgression, including the context for when the claim was reported. Many have pointed to the apparent opportunism of Ford’s allegation. While the timing for the claim is not definitive evidence against it, this factor should certainly be considered when investigating it.
Kavanaugh has demonstrated substantial legal prowess, and until a few weeks ago, strong moral character. It is why he received the nomination in the first place, as well as being unanimously rated as “well-qualified” by the American Bar Association.
Further delaying his confirmation sends a dangerous message for how we handle similar cases in the future.
Evidently, not all factors could be agreed upon. However, after extensive discussion, a majority opinion was reached by the Editorial Board. We decided to support the notion of Ford’s credibility and hopefully push back against the precedent her critics are attempting to sustain.