September 18, 2018

Can #MeToo Derail Brett Kavanaugh's Lifetime Appointment?

Justice Clarence Thomas
By SCOTUS [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons
Now that Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman when he was in high school and the accuser, Dr. Christine Blassey Ford has come forward publicly, it sounds like we are likely to hear from her in a public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will be interesting to see if we have learned anything since the now infamous hearings in which Anita Hill was questioned about Clarence Thomas in 1991. I certainly hope we have.

I remember watching Hill's appearance before the Senate committee. I found Hill to be extremely credible, and I was embarrassed to see members of the Senate treat her like they did. They seemed to have contempt for her, but she struck me as incredibly brace. The allegations against Thomas did not seem like the sort of thing anybody would make up. Some of them were way too bizarre (remember the pubic hair on the Coke can?).

I found myself wondering what the hell was wrong with Thomas. In fact, I haven't stopped. There was no way he'd be confirmed, I thought. Boy, was I was naive! Not only was he confirmed, but public opinions about his confirmation shifted in a more favorable direction following Hill's testimony. It was almost as if the public liked what they heard about Thomas during those hearings.

Now that we are in the midst of the #MeToo movement and even have a few female senators on the judiciary committee, I want to believe that things will go very differently this time around. Still, I find myself guessing that we might be in store for a similar outcome even if the process is (hopefully) better. I have heard too many pro-Kavanaugh folks insisting that even if the allegations are true, they should not stop his confirmation. Some argue that he was young and it was too long ago. I don't know about them, but I somehow managed to make it through high school without sexually assaulting anyone or ever being accused of sexually assaulting anyone. Others argue that the allegations should have no bearing on his suitability for the Court. It seems to me that a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court is one of the very few times when we might really want someone who was "squeaky clean" and above reproach.

Part of what makes me feel pessimistic is that Trump was elected after the Access Hollywood tape. Yes, I am aware that what he said on the tape was not the same thing as sexual assault and that it may have been little more than boasting. But the fact that it was on tape and did not end his campaign makes me hesitant to get too optimistic about Kavanaugh's nomination falling apart.   

I hope the senators who will question Ford handle the process much better than those who questioned Hill did. I understand the temptation some Democrats will have to use the opportunity to score political points, but I fear this may backfire if they are not careful in how they go about it. It seems like every one of these confirmation battles is more politically heated and dysfunctional than the last, and I do not expect this one to be any different. Hopefully, our elected officials can at least manage to treat Ford with more respect than was shown to Hill.