In many ways, the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was indicative of the decayed state of American politics. The vote was cast on almost perfectly partisan lines; the vetting and confirmation process was short and incomplete; and the discourse surrounding Kavanaugh’s record was conducted with bitter contempt.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation was also a defining moment for the country. The minute Kavanaugh lay his hand on the Bible as former Justice Anthony Kennedy swore him in, two things became remarkably clear.
The first is that sexual assault is not a disqualifying factor for men who seek positions of power in the United States. Republicans in the Senate, like Susan Collins, called for the immediate resignation of Al Franken as allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced, yet neglected to err on the side of caution and deny the confirmation of a man with multiple allegations of assault against him. No matter the lip service politicians pay to survivors of sexual assault, the message is more transparent now than ever: from the presidency to the gatekeeper of our constitution, sexual assault only matters when it’s not your party in trouble.
The second and perhaps more important point of political clarity brought to light is that the process we use to evaluate and confirm nominees to the Supreme Court has been grossly politicized.
Consider the hastiness with which Kavanaugh’s vetting was conducted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell certainly didn’t try to hide his intention to rush the confirmation before the midterms, so as to avoid a blue wave washing away the few seats separating his party from minority status in the Senate.
In order to cross the finish line before Nov. 6, Senate Republicans played dirty. Senate Republicans worked in tandem with the White House to withhold over 100,000 documents regarding Kavanaugh’s profile, leaving Senators unable to review the full extent of his record before making an informed decision. Then, hours before hearings were to begin, over 42,000 documents were dumped on Senators’ desks for review.
This is no way to conduct a thorough, judicious review of a nominee for the highest court in the land. All parties understandably want to secure a judicial legacy while in office, but legacy should never supersede the integrity of the democratic process.
Alas, McConnell knew it would take more than poisoning the confirmation hearings to secure 50 votes. The final blow to the process was an unapologetic campaign to discredit Kavanaugh’s accusers using smear tactics and bad-faith engagement.
We all knew Christine Blasey Ford would never get a fair shake when she shared her story. Survivors of sexual assault are already systematically demoralized and disbelieved when they come out.
This time was different.
It’s not often that a major political party gaslights a sexual assault survivor in order to lift their accuser to a position of power. Collins, a key Republican swing vote from Maine, towed the line by saying that she believed Ford was assaulted by somebody — just not Kavanaugh. McConnell inaccurately called Ford’s accusation “uncorroborated,” ignoring the four sworn affidavits to the Senate Judiciary Committee confirming her story. Despite Ford’s certainty that Kavanaugh was culpable and corroboration by multiple sources, Kavanaugh’s defenders resorted to persistently questioning her sanity.
Senators continued to repeat Kavanaugh’s repeated misrepresentation of Leland Keyser’s letter to the Judiciary Committee, claiming that it “refutes” Ford’s allegation. This was, of course, despite the fact that Keyser’s lawyer issued a statement clarifying she “does not refute Dr. Ford’s account”.
Even President Trump himself continues to parade his indifference towards factual accuracy by mocking Ford at rallies. But never mind that Trump’s account of her testimony is flagrantly straw-manned. More important is its representation of the strategy Senate Republicans and pundits desperate to solidify a conservative majority on the Supreme Court have employed: procedural stonewalling and purposeful dishonesty.
A country that decides whether or not survivors of sexual assault deserve to be treated like human beings based on their political affiliation is surely a nation headed for trouble. The basis of our democracy is that we listen and engage with the intent to understand and disagree. Democracy is also predicated on transparency in process, which requires both a commitment to truth and indifference towards ideological outcomes. The confirmation of Kavanaugh is a worrying sign that we’re losing sight of both of these commitments.
We cannot sustain this model of government. Rushing crucial presidential appointments to score midterm points leads to more mistrust of government. Dehumanizing those we disagree with abrades the spirit of discourse and human decency. Without the pillars of which democracy rests on, we’re left only with is self interested governance and acidic populism.