Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) put the icing on the cake. The confirmation was baked in long ago: the path to a fifth conservative seat on the Supreme Court was in the works for at least 30 years. (Remember Karl Rove’s dream of a permanent Republican majority?)
Before Dr. Christine Basley Ford described the sexual assault she had suffered in high school at a specially convened hearing of the Senate Judicial Committee, the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed that the Senate would “plow” through to a certain confirmation. But when Ford described her ordeal, she moved and impressed not only the senators, but the president, with her authenticity. Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation no longer looked like a sure thing.
Then Kavanaugh testified. Red-faced, he wept and he raged. Furious, he accused the Democrats of plotting a “calculated and orchestrated political hit,” fueled by “pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election.” But “what goes around comes around,” he said, apparently foreseeing vengeful retribution against the Democrats.
Following the hearing, people were appalled at Kavanaugh’s injudicious lack of control, his partisanship, fury and unseemly demeanor. The American Bar Association and the Yale Law School withdrew their endorsements pending a further investigation by the FBI. Close to 1,000 professors of law wrote to the Senate that Kavanaugh lacks the judicial temperament required for a seat on the Supreme Court.
The Republicans, all men, identified with Kavanaugh. They said they believed Ford had been sexually assaulted, yet contrived a way to exonerate Kavanaugh and justify voting for him. They began to poke holes in Ford’s testimony, pointing to her inability to remember details such as the address of the house, who took her home and the like. The people Ford named as being at the party couldn’t recall the party, much less the attack. All the evidence the senators chose to examine was gleaned from the severely limited FBI investigation. It was not enough to identify Kavanaugh as Ford’s aggressor. There was only Ford’s word. It didn’t occur to the men that a woman who had been sexually assaulted would have a powerful and excruciatingly present memory of the event, if not the superfluous details, while others present would have no reason to remember what was for them one unremarkable party among many. Once again, the woman was silenced, her searing testimony almost beside the point.
Within days, the debate shifted. Kavanaugh’s lack of judicial temperament, his lying under oath and his fierce partisanship replaced the sexual assault as the principal reasons to deny him a lifelong seat on the Supreme Court.
In the end, however, Kavanaugh’s unsuitability was tamped down by the overwhelming desire to hold on to power. Republicans have an extremely thin majority in the Senate. In the event of a Democratic victory in the imminent midterm elections, they would lose not only one or both houses of Congress, but the ability to establish a conservative majority in the Court that could endure for decades to come.
So Ford exposed her private torment to the world, and for what? For nothing, as she herself had feared?
Well, no, not entirely. Women heard her and their own buried traumas rose to torment them. All across the country women clamored to bear witness. They marched and spoke and wrote and pounded on the doors of their representatives.
Many men listened to them. Amazed by their number, they confessed they had no idea that sexual assault was such a widespread problem. The #metoo phenomenon, just a year old, came roaring back.
Now that women’s and Democrats’ efforts have failed to prevent the elevation to a lifetime appointment of a judge whose convictions threaten the progress already made, what comes next?
Keep striving. We have to believe that though we have undoubtedly suffered a setback, we have the strength to reclaim lost ground and continue to advance into a more equitable future for all Americans.