Delay process, to investigate claim against Kavanaugh

September 17, 2018

There are many lessons we’ve learned from the #MeToo movement and the incidents that spawned it. Key among them is that alleged victims should be heard.

The same applies in the case of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kavanaugh now stands so accused and a hearing is what is owed the accuser and the accused.

Kavanaugh flatly denies the allegation.

An investigation into what amounts to a claim of sexual assault and a hearing to weigh the evidence should occur even if it delays Republican senators’ timetable for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on Thursday, with a full Senate vote soon after.

Christine Blasey Ford, a California university professor, alleges that, at a high school party in the early 1980s in suburban Maryland, a drunken 17-year-old Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, groped her over her clothes and attempted to forcibly disrobe her, while holding a hand over her mouth to stifle her screams. She says she escaped after another boy jumped on the pair. She was 15.

If true, this amounts to sexual assault — an attempted rape that her attorney says might have been successful if the teenage boy was not so drunk. And this will be true even if the incident occurred some 35 years ago by a teenage boy. Seventeen-year-old boys can be sexual predators and should, in any case, legally know the wrong of it. But there is another wrinkle here: If it happened, that means Kavanaugh is lying about it — a charge of lying already levied in these hearing against Kavanaugh by Democrats.

There is resistance to delaying the confirmation process. It goes something like this: This 11th hour charge reeks of political opportunism and desperation and shouldn’t be rewarded. The charge is some 35 years old and Blasey Ford was silent about it for much of that period.

But Blasey Ford disclosed the attack to a therapist in 2012, whose notes have been provided, though Kavanaugh was not explicity named. And 2012 was well before Kavanaugh was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Moreover, what we know about sexual assaults is that victims, for a variety of reasons, remain silent long periods, if they come forward at all.

And if what forced her to come forward now was the prospect that her alleged assaulter was about to secure a Supreme Court seat, that strikes us as a compelling reason to speak.

The only factor that should be weighed now is whether the allegation can be proven true or false. It might be that we never get to veracity — that it remains he said, she said. But the Senate mustn’t act without making the effort.

Blasey Ford wrote an anonymous letter months ago. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, ranking minority member on the Judiciary Committee, reluctantly released it. Blasey Ford decided to come forward because of how her allegation was being represented.

Her attorney says she is willing to testify to the Committee. Kavanaugh says he is, too. Democrats are pushing for the FBI to investigate as part of a reopened Kavanaugh background check. That’s reasonable — to determine if corroboration is possible, whether there is evidence that can, in fact, go beyond he said, she said.

Yes, this might mean Kavanaugh is not sworn in before Oct 1, when the high court is scheduled to begin its new term.

That’s OK. Better that the accused and accuser be heard than take the chance that germane material about the nominee’s fitness — including his truthfulness — not be fully vetted.

Remember, Republican senators were perfectly OK refusing to even consider President Obama’s nominee to the court after Justice Antonin Scalia died — though the president had some 10 months left in his term. And while that nomination languished, Republicans were perfectly OK with an eight-member — 4-4 — court. They have no moral high ground to protest delay in Kavanaugh’s case.

The only thing Republicans had against Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee, is that, well, he was Obama’s nominee, despite the claim at the time that voters in the looming presidential election should decide who gets to do the nominating. But this charge against Kavanaugh transcends politics.

Investigate and give both the accuser and the accused a hearing even if that means prolonging the nomination process. It’s the only right thing to do.

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