In today’s highly connected online world, the news can often fly by at alarming speed and, regardless of the unprecedented nature of events, what happened can often be swiftly forgotten. This has been immediately apparent to me when I look back at the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as Associate Justice on the US Supreme Court.
The media’s smearing of the man’s name, the women’s justice movements and the life-shattering allegations levelled against Brett Kavanaugh represent some of the most insane moments I’ve witnessed in US politics and, indeed, in the US commentariat. That is why I have chosen to reflect on those events in the hope that others will do the same, because – to my mind – we cannot let something as outrageous as those weeks pass by forgotten in the minds of the public.
One pillar the US system is built on is the restriction of government power and a deliberate push for a more bipartisan and scrutinising process of legislation that is not the case in other democracies. Each branch of the Federal government has its role, and one of the large roles the Senate plays is confirming judges to the courts.
There was no doubt in anyone’s minds that Donald Trump would aim to replace any vacant seats on the Supreme Court and ensure a conservative majority to interpret the constitution in an Originalist way.
Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation, while hysterical at times, passed by mostly without consequence; but the confirmation of the President’s second pick, Brett Kavanaugh, turned quickly into one of the most shocking and remarkable displays in US media history.
The role of the Senate should be to judge a nominee in a non-partisan fashion, being willing and able to consider each person for their strengths and judicial record regardless of the President who chooses them. However, the partisan split in American politics has collapsed this intended process into a political dogfight that reached its peak with Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
From the start, Democrats rejected him before he was even announced as the nominee, and made it clear they would vehemently oppose anyone who was nominated by President Trump. This turned the Senate hearings into a complete farce, with Senators who had already made up their mind using the questioning time to get themselves in the headlines – and the media lapped it up.
Some memorable examples of this include Senator Cory Booker’s so-called ‘Spartacus’, moment as he repeated multiple times that he’d broken the committee rules in releasing documents on Kavanaugh that the committee had already cleared for release anyway.
And who can forget Senator Kamal Harris trying to find out if Kavanaugh had spoken about the Russia report with anyone who worked at Trump’s lawyers’ firm, attempting to suggest that judges know which law firm every single other judge they encounter works for.
Despite having a fairly mixed record on the issues of the day, Senators attempted to trap Kavanaugh into a political corner and make him seem like a Republican Party hack.
But that is the mildest lows that this process dipped to. The most significant – and still discussed – event of the entire charade was the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford that claimed Brett Kavanaugh, thirty-six years ago at their prep school, attempted to sexually assault her at a party with Brett’s other friends, including Mark Judge, which she swore blind were also attendants at this apparent party. These allegations were all set out in a letter that Dr. Ford sent to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Instead of instantly referring these potentially serious allegations to a law enforcement agency, she withheld them for up to six weeks until the very eve of his confirmation process. Why? We know why; to stop the confirmation, not to seeking justice for any potential wrongdoing.
As if that was not immoral enough, a presumption of innocence and awaiting of a proper process was thrown out the window, as the media went wild smearing his name even before anyone had been questioned or investigated regarding the alleged incident.
Almost instantly after the letter’s contents were made public – allegedly because Feinstein’s staff leaked them to the press – every single person named by Dr. Ford denied the allegation, and denied even being at the party she described. Even Ford’s closest friend said she was not there, and Dr. Ford quite cruelly asserted that her friend’s health problems might explain her failure to recall the apparent incident.
The first action Republicans took was to have Ford testify before the committee; a logical step in determining the details of this allegation. Ford’s lawyers agreed this was the proper course of action. If someone has a burning story with corroborating evidence then surely she and her lawyers would be keen to testify; however, this is not what happened.
For weeks, Ford’s lawyers kept refusing and juggling the dates that the Senate offered to Dr. Ford. Senator Grassley extended the deadline many times, but the conditions and date kept moving while the media began to smear Kavanaugh’s name and build up the hysteria to near boiling point. We can only imagine what Kavanaugh’s family must have been going through as the story continued to be paraded around the press.
Ford’s lawyers, as well as other Democrats, demanded FBI investigations take place immediately before any testimony, but this was completely unnecessary. The FBI’s scope of the investigation (which, importantly, was not a criminal investigation) is smaller than that of the Judiciary Committee. With no witness statements from Ford, no time, place, or details regarding the incident, such investigations into Kavanaugh – of course – turned up nothing, and merely wasted time as the situation began to be increasingly blown out of proportion.
The media were claiming Brett’s ‘whiteness’, his name, and other bogus characteristics made him ‘seem’ culpable – which apparently is all that’s required to find someone guilty of rape.
Reporter Alex Grisworld put it aptly on Twitter when he said ‘if Kavanaugh is denied the seat, rightly or wrongly, he will be publicly declared a rapist. His wife will be the wife of a rapist. His daughters will have friends telling them he is a rapist. History will remember him as a rapist.’ Ford, too, experienced death threats and smears, and the situation caused by her lawyer’s stalling tactics must have been equally as distressing for her and her family.
Finally, though, a date was agreed and testimony and questioning from both parties occurred. However, Ford’s lawyers slapped on many ridiculous conditions, such as Ford not being allowed to be questioned by anyone but the Judiciary Committee, and they even attempted to fix the order of appearance to ensure Dr. Ford went last; an obvious attempt to cement her statement in the minds of the American public and present Kavanaugh as the guilty party.
The actual testimonies themselves turned up no new information. Dr Ford could not name a place, location or any further detail about the alleged incident, and Kavanaugh was questioned on spurious things like his enjoyment of beer at college and an analysis of his high school calendar, which he provided himself.
With no evidence or threads to properly determine guilt, the entire thing became a charade of ‘he said, she said’, with the media judging Kavanaugh as guilty merely based upon how angry he was. But this was a man that had been accused of rape, so his anger – in my view – was obviously going to manifest after the hell he was dragged through in those agonising weeks. None of it was about determining guilt; both sides of the political divide decided whether Dr. Ford was telling the truth merely based upon their feelings and biases.
Two further allegations relating to gang rape were made by other women; these were disproven, and the false allegations were withdrawn, but the damage had been done. Kavanaugh was confirmed, but nothing could wash out those stains from his record.
That is – almost – the entire tale of Brett Kavanaugh’s risible confirmation process. Allegations were made with no evidence, the media smeared Kavanaugh, and the Democrats continued their political showboating right until the very end. We didn’t even touch upon the incredibly spurious and changing statements Ford herself made about her therapist, polygraph tests and her apparent fear of flying, but I believe what has been said is enough to show just how low this process stooped and how the media, the Democratic Party, and the protestors who believed Ford with no evidence, all need to hang their heads in shame at a shambolic process that won’t be forgotten soon.
Photo by The White House on Flikr.