The country has recently witnessed the Senate Confirmation Hearing of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the Trump Administration’s latest Supreme Court nominee. Following the confirmation hearing, we all got to witness a second hearing in which psychology professor and sexual assault victim, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, was able to present her account of what happened to her one night in high school, a night in which she alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her.
A few things to get out of the way – whether you believe Kavanaugh or Ford doesn’t matter. Not right now. As is often the case with sexual assault claims, they’re hard, if not impossible, to corroborate. What often transpires is a he-said-she-said situation, which doesn’t and shouldn’t hold up in any kind of court. We can talk about motives and political agendas, assertions of personal character, how convincing their testimonies were, etc., but it’s all just chatter. Again, none of that does or should hold up in any kind of court.
That said – this isn’t a court of law. It’s a confirmation.
Senate judiciary confirmations take place when a political appointee needs to be confirmed by the Senate – pretty self-explanatory. The judiciary is made up of 21 senators, currently ten Democrats and eleven Republicans. Once the committee questions the nominee on key issues and general competence, they vote on whether or not this person will be able to serve in the position they’ve been nominated for.
In a perfect situation, the questions the senators ask the nominee matter. The answers the nominees provide matter. However, with everything falling on either side of a party line these days, most committee members vote with their party – Republicans vote for any of Trump’s nominees and Democrats vote against them. No matter how obvious it is that the nominee is unsuitable for the role (such as Betsy DeVos…among others), they usually still win the appointment.
In many ways, these confirmations hearings are just formalities; things that need to happen because they’re supposed to happen; following protocol for protocol’s sake. It’s like the boss who says, “Look, you’re going to get the job, but I have to at least open it up to everyone else. Don’t worry, it’s definitely going to be you.” Most of the senators on the committee already know how they’re going to vote, regardless of what’s revealed during the course of the hearing.
One good thing about these hearings is that they’re televised, so at least the American people can get to know the people who are running their government, whether or not we have any control over their appointment.
Anyway, such seems to be the case with Kavanaugh. While he’s at least a judge, which qualifies him for the role on a basic level, his voting record, political affiliations, and stances on issues have been cause for concern on the left. Couple that with his inability or unwillingness to sufficiently answer questions that a Supreme Court justice should be able to answer and you have a candidate who’s not super popular with over half of the country.
Let’s think about the role of a judge in the most idealistic sense. A judge in any court, big or small, rules on cases. They listen to the testimonies, review the evidence, oversee court proceedings, sometimes issue the final verdict, and/or determine sentencing. That’s a lot of authority granted to one person, but that’s why judges are supposed to be top-notch. In many ways, they’re small-time versions of the elusive Benevolent Dictator, someone who presides over a court, taking all bits of testimony and evidence into consideration, examining the case’s greater implications within society, and making the best and most fair judgment for all parties involved. They’re supposed to be non-partisan, and while they may have a lean on their voting record, they can hopefully back up their rulings. Objectivity is key, which means examining things on a case by case basis.
Next, let’s consider the role of a senator. The senators basic function is to represent the people who elected them. There are no baseline educational or experiential requirements to become a US senator. You just have to be voted into the office. As we’ve seen, voters don’t always know or care if the candidates they vote for are ill-equipped for the job they’re performing.
I personally believe there should be term limits in Congress, and while we’re at it, for Supreme Court justices. It doesn’t make sense to me that Dianne Feinstein (D), our oldest senator at 85 years old, has been serving on the US Senate since 1992. Chuck Grassley (R), just a few months younger than Feinstein, has been serving even longer – since 1980. Orrin Hatch (R), 84, once infamously tried to remove glasses from his face – that he wasn’t wearing.
Most people well into their 80s would have retired from whatever job they had been doing a decade or two earlier. Most of their coworkers were probably ready for them to retire. Imagine your grandparents, who as a group are notoriously out of touch with the current state of most things, making decisions on all things in your life, a life that they have never lived and struggle to comprehend. Even for me at 30, I can barely relate to my 13-year old nieces. Their lives are full of concerns, priorities, and realities that simply weren’t around when I was their age, even though that wasn’t that long ago.
I won’t get into Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing here, but instead, I’ll discuss the hearing regarding the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh.
Quickly, Dr. Ford claimed that she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh in high school. Kavanaugh denies these claims, saying that he has “always” treated women with respect.
First of all, not to nitpick, but the word “always” is already problematic. In everyday speech, it’s understood to be hyperbolic and not literal, but in Kavanaugh’s case, it’s dismissive and untrue. There is evidence that he has not “always” respected women from his high school yearbook.
Fine. Lots of us were lesser versions of ourselves in high school. Admit it, apologize for it, explain that you’ve grown from it, and move on.
On a similar note, Kavanaugh asserts that he was a virgin until well after high school. Fine. Lots of people were virgins until well after high school, but with Kavanaugh, this isn’t really anything we can confirm. I’m not sure why a man would admit this publicly unless it was actually true, but here again, his high school yearbook would argue otherwise.
When asked about certain terms written in his yearbook, including terms that are widely and commonly understood to refer to sexual practices, Kavanaugh insisted they were in reference to drinking games and flatulence.
Really? Since when was The Devil’s Triangle a drinking game?
And yes…the drinking.
Kavanaugh’s relationship with alcohol has been called into question in light of the sexual assault allegations. Senate Republicans have tried to minimize the issue of Kavanaugh’s drinking, claiming that the Democrats are getting riled up over a man having a few beers.
That’s not what’s happening here. Kavanaugh’s central defense is that he did not assault Dr. Ford because he does not remember doing it. Of course, people do things they don’t remember doing while they’re drunk. Several people who knew him in high school claim that he would frequently drink to excess, sometimes to the point of blacking out. Kavanaugh denies these claims – kind of.
When questioned on whether or not he’s ever blacked out from drinking, his response to the senator was,
“Have you? I’m curious if you have.”
Aside from being incredibly disrespectful and petulant, this is not an acceptable response to a question, during a judiciary hearing or ever.
Obviously, Kavanaugh did not answer the question. He could have easily said, “No, Senator.” Furthermore, he seems to have forgotten that whether or not the questioning senator had ever gotten black-out drunk was not relevant to his confirmation to the Supreme Court. Perhaps this was an effort to prove that getting that drunk is normal and that everyone’s done it at some point. Even then, that would seem to prove that yes, he has gotten black-out drunk.
So no, Democrats aren’t mad that a man had a few beers with his friends. They’re questioning whether or not he could have possibly been so heavily inebriated during the night in question that he does not remember the alleged assault.
We’re not all saints, but we’re not all trying to become Supreme Court justices, either. With that, you’re opening yourself up – past and present versions of yourself – to public scrutiny. Refusing to address, or even worse, lying about skeletons in your closet is not an option for someone who could become a justice to the highest court in the country.
Moving on, Kavanaugh presented his calendar from the 1970s as evidence that Dr. Ford’s testimony was false. The fact that he, as a judge, deemed this a valid piece of evidence is troubling.
He explained how meticulously he kept up with his calendars from his teenage years and he explained why he hung onto them for as long as he had. Amidst getting choked up in what appeared to be an attempt curry favor, he spoke about his father’s calendars and about how his father would use them to regale the family with tales of his younger days.
Why the unnecessary show of emotion?
This all just felt like Kavanaugh was trying to paint an idyllic picture of his childhood, like he was Smalls from The Sandlot or Mr. Anderson in Dead Poet’s Society – all-American, a little (or a lot) privileged, and living the life that every immigrant who moves to this country only dreams of.
Unfortunately, the reality of Kavanaugh’s upbringing is not typical for the majority of Americans, whether they were born here or not. The childhood and adolescence of a well-off white male in New England isn’t as relatable as they (the well-off white males in New England) would seem to think it is.
That said, Kavanaugh acted as many people of privilege act when confronted with their past indiscretions. In his opening statement and then for the remainder of the hearing, he came off as entitled, abrasive, and victimized. I’ll let you mull over the audacity of all that.
More importantly, though, he displayed obvious bias against the Democratic party, disrespect for Congress and its function, disdain for the news media, and a reluctance to submit to an FBI investigation into the incident in question.
Those things, alone, should have disqualified a man from being a judge on the Supreme Court. He couldn’t even feign objectivity.
But top all of that off with the potential lies Kavanaugh told throughout the hearing while under oath and you have someone who is not only unqualified for the role, but someone who has possibly committed perjury.
Whether or not these allegations are true or if Kavanaugh’s former classmates are telling the truth about the kind of person he was in his younger days may not be something we can prove. Still, his behavior during the hearings were troubling enough to raise serious questions regarding how fit he is for this role.
I wouldn’t even want that guy as my boss.
For a role that lasts an entire lifetime and affects the direction of an entire nation, dismissing these allegations is unacceptable. Any amount of doubt is worth investigating. These issues would disqualify any other person from any other job, so we need to find someone else. With an elite nine justices on the Supreme Court and a pool of judges across the country to choose from – pick a different one.