Now that the woman behind a fuzzy, anonymous sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has gone public with her accusation, it must be taken seriously. That means having the FBI look into it. That also means the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee who are so enamored with the persona they have created for Kavanaugh (He’s supersmart! He loves his kids! He likes homeless people, too!) need to delay their vote on him.

Because even though this incident allegedly happened more than three decades ago, we still need to know more about it — and then a decision can be made.

The accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, is a Palo Alto University professor who trains graduate students in clinical psychology. She has offered details: a drunken teenage Kavanaugh allegedly pushing her into a bedroom and onto a bed, groping her, clapping his hand over her mouth when she tried to yell out. That doesn’t make her story automatically true, but the details make the allegation serious enough to be worth investigating.

And if the Judiciary Committee is going to bluster about how Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the senior Democrat on the panel, deliberately sabotaged its work by waiting months to give the FBI a letter she’d received from Ford in July making these allegations, that’s ridiculous. Ford is the one who decided not to go public with her story until just this week. And if there is a legitimate complaint about a man nominated for one of the most important offices in the country who’s young enough to hold the job for the next 30 years or more, then it’s worth investigating.

That said, if Ford’s allegations do turn out to be credible or are proven true, we have a bigger issue: Should that incident, alone, disqualify him from being on the Supreme Court? Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens thinks so: “Sexual assault is an abuse of power and should disqualify anyone from serving on the highest court in the land,” she said in a statement released Sunday.

Kavanaugh unequivocally denied the allegation last week before the accuser outed herself, and he repeated his denial on Monday. If this happened the way Ford said it did, Kavanaugh was beyond behaving boorishly and went right up to sexual assault — which Ford may have escaped only because she was able to wriggle away from his grasp. Can a high school teen who does something this serious turn into an adult with integrity who does nothing else like that in the decades since?

I believe, wholeheartedly, that it’s possible. But I’m not sure that person should be on the Supreme Court — not unless that person explains what happened and why he’s different now.

Am I being too harsh? Am I setting too high a bar? If you think so, let me ask you this: All you men out there — when you were in high school, how many teenage girls did you pin down on a bed after a pool party and cover their mouths so they couldn’t scream? Right. Doesn’t sound like something you’d do.

I can’t help thinking about Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. That episode was different in a lot of ways — both were lawyers, and the incidents at issue happened in the workplace, not the home of some teenager’s parents. Race was part of the drama. But it was similar in that a woman of substance and reputation was accusing, publicly, a man of substance and reputation of a past incident of sexual misconduct. Of course, the biggest difference is that Ford is coming forward to accuse Kavanaugh in the midst of the #MeToo movement that has raised consciousness about the seriousness of sexual harassment and assault. Given all that, it is appropriate for the Senate to pause and look into her allegations.

 

Carla Hall is a Los Angeles Times editorial board member who writes about homelessness, reproductive rights, popular culture, animal welfare, and human rights in Asia and Africa, among other topics.