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Boys will be Supreme Court justices

September 20, 2018

Obviously, I believe Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who says that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school while his friend, Mark Judge, watched and, at moments, egged him on. I believe her when she says that Kavanaugh, who she says was drunk, held her down, covered her mouth when she tried to scream, and ground against her while attempting to pull her clothes off. I believe her when she says this incident haunted her all her life.

There’s rarely hard evidence in a case like this, but Blasey — the surname she prefers to use publicly — has done everything possible to substantiate her claim. Speaking to the Washington Post, she produced notes from a therapist she saw in 2012, whom she’d told about being attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who grew up to become “high-ranking members of society in Washington.” According to her husband, that year she identified Kavanaugh to him by name. When Kavanaugh appeared on a short list of potential Supreme Court picks — but before his nomination had been announced — Blasey contacted both the Post and her member of Congress, Anna G. Eshoo of California. By all indications, she wanted to head his nomination off without being forced into the spotlight.

Blasey passed a polygraph administered by a former FBI agent. The utility of polygraphs is dubious, but her willingness to take one is evidence of her sincerity.

Kavanaugh denies the allegation unequivocally. Judge, who wrote a memoir of his teenage alcoholism, has veered between denying the incident and saying he doesn’t recall it. But it’s a sign of how credible Blasey seems that, since this story broke, much of the public debate has been less about whether her accusations are true than whether they are relevant.

Some conservatives — though not just conservatives — insist that it is unfair to judge a middle-aged man for things he did as a kid. On Fox News, the former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer pondered the weight of high school misbehavior. “Should that deny us chances later in life?” he asked. “Even for Supreme Court job, a presidency of the United States, or you name it?”

Such arguments would be more convincing if people on the right weren’t so selective in their indulgence. Donald Trump called for the death penalty for the Central Park 5, who were 14 to 16 years old when they were arrested. (They’ve since been proven innocent.) Children are regularly put on sex offender registries, sometimes for their entire lives, for conduct less serious than what Kavanaugh is accused of.

Anyway, this is no longer just about what Kavanaugh might have done 36 years ago. We need to determine, as best we can, if he’s lying now. As I write this, several Republican senators have said that the nomination should not proceed until both Kavanaugh and Blasey have a chance to testify before the Judiciary Committee. (The committee’s head, Sen. Charles Grassley, agreed, with a hearing scheduled for Monday.) Senators should also demand that Kavanaugh’s old friend Judge, who grew up to become a right-wing writer, testify, though Kavanaugh would surely prefer other character witnesses.

There is a small, dark part of me that thinks it would be fitting if Republicans shove Kavanaugh through despite the allegations against him. Anyone Trump nominates is going to threaten Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh would at least make plain the power dynamics behind forced pregnancy. We would lose Roe because a president who boasted of sexual assault, elected against the wishes of the majority of female voters, was able to give a lifetime Supreme Court appointment to an ex-frat boy credibly accused of attempted rape. Kavanaugh, helped by an all-male Republican caucus on the Judiciary Committee, would join Clarence Thomas, whose confirmation hearing helped make the phrase “sexual harassment” a household term. They and three other men would likely vote against the court’s three women. The brute imposition of patriarchy would be undeniable.

If the Kavanaugh nomination is scuttled, chances are Republicans will try to replace him with someone like Amy Coney Barrett, who is in some ways more conservative. On Sunday, Politico quoted a lawyer close to the White House as saying that the administration had redoubled its support for Kavanaugh in light of Blasey’s claims: “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried.”

If the Kavanaugh nomination goes forward, it’s because Trump and his allies believe that a certain class of men accused of sexual assault deserve impunity. The question now is whether any Republican senators believe otherwise.

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