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We must give Ford’s allegation the hearing it deserves

September 23, 2018

WASHINGTON — “It never happened” and “it wasn’t him” are legitimate, if inconsistent, arguments for defenders of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to make. “We have to stick to our deadline” and “there’s no need to involve the FBI” are nothing but partisan Republican talking points. And excuses like “he was only 17” and “boys will be boys” are simply vile.

Obviously, I don’t know whether Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh tried to rape her is true. In a court of law, he would be entitled to the presumption of innocence and the allegation would have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In a confirmation proceeding for a lifetime seat on the highest court in the land, however, different standards apply.

Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Douglas Ginsburg for the Supreme Court in 1987, but Ginsburg withdrew after it was revealed that, years earlier, he had smoked marijuana. Youthful pot use likely would not be disqualifying today. A youthful sexual assault of the kind that Ford alleges surely would be.

Hypothetically, should a serious offense committed at age 17 be held against someone for the rest of his life? It happens all the time. Seventeen-year-olds are often tried, convicted, sentenced and jailed as adults in many states, including Maryland, where Ford claims the assault took place. These youthful offenders’ lives are permanently shadowed, if not ruined, for things they did when they were too young to vote.

As advocates for victims’ rights point out, juveniles sometimes do heinous things. Republican senators who routinely preach about law and order must look at the allegation not just from Kavanaugh’s point of view but from Ford’s as well.

There is no reason to doubt that something happened at a prep school house party in the 1980s that still shadows her life. We know that she spoke of the incident in a couples’ therapy session with her husband in 2012. We know that she reported it to a Washington Post tip line in July, before President Trump chose Kavanaugh as his nominee to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Whatever this is, it is not any kind of last-minute hit job.

And for the record, this is not the last minute. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, are obviously — and brazenly — setting artificial deadlines in an attempt to rush Kavanaugh’s confirmation through before the November election.

Not even two full months have passed since Kennedy left the court. By contrast, these same GOP senators kept the late Antonin Scalia’s seat open for well over a year, refusing even to grant President Obama’s nominee a hearing.

By now, we should know not to expect fairness from this Republican leadership, which richly deserves to be voted out of power. But we must at least demand basic decency — which, in this case, means giving Ford’s allegation the hearing it deserves.

It is not enough to listen to he-said, she-said testimony for a few hours and then call it a day. The FBI should be asked to reopen its background investigation of Kavanaugh and look into Ford’s claim. Such an effort would not take long at all — and would be in Kavanaugh’s best interests if he is innocent.

Some of the GOP senators who insist on speeding ahead with Kavanaugh’s confirmation had a very different view in 1991 when Anita Hill accused then-nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, among others, said that reopening the FBI’s background investigation of Thomas was the right thing to do. It took all of three days for the bureau to complete the Hill-Thomas review.

Kavanaugh should welcome the scrutiny. What Ford alleges is not some minor indiscretion. She accuses him of a violent assault — the kind of attack that gets people sent to prison. If he is to serve until retirement as one of the ultimate arbiters of justice in the United States, he should want as much testimony and information on the record as possible to assure Americans that he did not commit this alleged crime.

As for Ford, who wants the FBI to investigate, everyone should remember that she never asked to be in this position. She made her allegation anonymously, and came forward only when it was clear that someone had leaked her name. In the past week she has received death threats and she fears for her family’s safety.

Ford has been accused by some Republicans of being a political pawn. But ask yourself: Why would anyone choose to submit to such a life-upending experience without full conviction of the truth?

Eugene Robinson is a syndicated columnist. His email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

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