Allegations of sexual assault must be taken seriously. If the #MeToo movement has demonstrated anything, it is that some men, for far too long, have been given a pass when it comes to frightening, horrific and criminal behavior, often leveraging power to obtain what they want.
So it is not only good, but necessary, that Judge Brett Kavanaugh is willing to testify to a Senate panel concerning accusations of assault, leveled by Christine Blasey Ford, while both of them were at a party during high school years. She says she was able to escape only because another young man jumped on them.
Both Kavanaugh and the other man, Mark Judge, deny the accusations and say the incident never happened.
But as this accusation begins to unfold so late in Kavanaugh’s confirmation process as a potential Supreme Court justice, it is important for senators, and all Americans, to consider a few factors:
- Senate confirmation hearings are inherently political, and they have become brutally so in recent decades. This is because Congress has slowly allowed much of its power to shift to the court, where de facto laws are decreed, taking the place of deliberation and debate by the people’s representatives.
A partisan circus is no place to consider the merits of serious criminal allegations. Neither Kavanaugh nor his accuser likely will get the type of evidence-based hearing and verdict typical in a court of law. Politics, opinion polls and timing are overriding factors here. Both sides know that postponing a confirmation until after midterm elections in November might change things considerably. In this context, Ford may find both sides treating her more as a weapon than a victim, and she deserves better than that.
- Unless other evidence or more witnesses come forward, it seems impossible to determine the truth of this matter. Kavanaugh and Judge say it didn’t happen. Ford says it did. Meanwhile, the alleged incident happened 36 years ago, when both were juveniles. Memories tend to be unreliable at such distances. Independent evidence may no longer exist.
- The timing of these allegations must be taken into account. Sen. Diane Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, apparently knew of the accusations a month or two ago. We certainly understand why Ford would be reluctant to go public (her treatment on social media in recent days bears out those fears), but why didn’t Feinstein pass the accusations on to the FBI, which conducted investigations into Kavanaugh’s background? Why not give enough time to properly investigate the claims?
- In the end, senators will have to evaluate this incident based on testimony and its relative importance. The judicial system includes juvenile courts precisely because juveniles have underdeveloped brains and sometimes do things they wouldn’t dream of doing as adults. But this by no means excuses sexual assaults by juveniles. Such crimes are serious matters, regardless of age, and they cause lasting damage.
It is worth considering, however, that Kavanaugh’s background check did not reveal any sort of pattern of similar behavior. No other women have come forward with similar claims.
Unfortunately, this is an age where, despite the #MeToo movement, infidelities and sexual crimes are too often given a pass in favor of political advantage.
Senators will need to weigh all these factors to determine whether Kavanaugh deserves a place on the nation’s highest court. If they decide based solely on politics, it will do neither Ford, the #MeToo movement, Kavanaugh nor the concept of justice much good.