Kavanaugh confirmation causes conundrum on campus

Sophia Yakumithis, News Editor

The Senate approved Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court appointment last Saturday following one of the most contentious and unusually partisan confirmation processes the country has seen, fuelling an already fierce political divide in anticipation of November’s midterm elections.

Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexually assaulting a former high school classmate, saw great public disapproval amid judicial hearings after Christine Blasey Ford, Ph.D., appeared before the Senate to share her testimony on the alleged incident. The allegations warranted a short-lived FBI investigation, which lasted no more than a week, and Kavanaugh was confirmed in a 50-48 vote last Saturday.

While SCOTUS is designated to carry out the constitution as a non-partisan, executive body, Kavanaugh’s appointment represents a Republican effort to gain control of the judicial branch.

The former D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals judge replaces centrist conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired this summer, and shifts the top Court’s ideological scale as far right as it has been in its over 200 years of existence.

President of Case College Republicans David Rodriguez was pleased with Saturday’s decision.

“This successful confirmation [is] a win for President Trump and the Republican Party,” he said, “the former of [whom] promised if elected would nominate conservative judges—not only to the Supreme Court with the confirmation of Justice [Neil] Gorsuch last year—but also with the record pace of successful appointments to lower circuit courts.”

On key judicial issues, including abortion rights and the extent of executive authority, Kavanaugh has refused to explicitly state his views. However, previous decisions have demonstrated his strict constructionist tendencies, which Rodriguez and many other Republicans highly regard for the top of the judicial branch.

“Having a Supreme Court [Associate Justice] who will rule according to the constitution, not legislate from the bench, is the main reason I am thrilled Kavanaugh was confirmed last week,” said Rodriguez. “This is what the framers [of the U.S. Constitution] intended, and Kavanaugh will be on the Supreme Court for decades to ensure that this is the case.”

In the days leading up to Kavanaugh’s appointment, the truthfulness of Ford’s allegations, accompanied by several other allegations of similar nature, was doubted by many Republicans. Democrats, however, were generally more concerned with the new Associate Justice’s temperament, as demonstrated in his testimony, interfering with his ability to carry out judicial responsibilities and how his undermining of the content discussed in Ford’s testimony could shape public attitude towards sexual misconduct.

“I am worried with the confirmation of Kavanaugh that the rhetoric such as ‘boys will be boys’ will increase in use, pushing the belief that men do not have to be accountable for the misdeeds of their past,” said second-year student Naveena Bontha. “Because of the widespread mockery of [Ford’s] testimony, I am afraid that victims will not feel comfortable to come forward with their own stories and experiences.”

Rodriguez, who feels that Ford “failed to bring forward enough corroborating evidence” on the front of Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault, said, “While it is important that victims of sexual assault are heard, keeping the precedent of innocence until proven guilty is paramount to keeping the rule of law in our country.”

Bontha, however, noted that both Ford and Kavanaugh’s accounts on the incident spoke to a greater issue beyond the content of their testimonies or the FBI probe.

“As a woman in 2018, it’s frightening to realize that sexual assault is still not taken seriously or even recognized as assault,” she said. “This can be seen on the college campus, where many students have experiences where they were under the influence and later realize what had happened the night before was nonconsensual.”

On Oct. 9, Pulse, a social polling application for college campuses founded by Dartmouth in 2016, sent out a poll which reached the Case Western Reserve University community about the First Amendment. According to Jake Gaba, the head of marketing for Pulse, over 34,000 students have completed the “Freedom of Speech” poll.

With the midterm elections approaching and the controversy engulfing Washington, the First Amendment is certainly in the hot seat on college campuses.

“First Amendment rights on college campuses is an issue that’s on a lot of people’s minds now,” said Gaba. “This is probably the largest scale poll of college student opinion on the topic ever conducted, and the results are public to all the participants.”

Gaba said the survey breaks down responses by demographics to give student a deeper understanding on how their peers feel about certain issues, especially those which are relevant on a national level.

“[Pulse] focuses on issues students care about, both local and national. The First Amendment survey, for example,” he said, “is a topic that has been on students,’ and the country’s, minds lately. It is something everyone has an opinion on.”

Gaba also remarked that Pulse and social polls like it can contribute to fostering dialogue on and off college campuses, something Bontha believes is especially important in light of the most recent SCOTUS appointment.

“Although Kavanaugh has been confirmed,” she said, “it is important that we continue to hold ourselves and our peers responsible for their actions.”