Minnesotans stopped in their tracks Thursday — at work, at home, at school or in between — to watch or listen to the drama unfolding before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Christine Blasey Ford's recounting of her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school and Kavanaugh's fiery, sometimes tearful defense drew hushed clusters of viewers, and later, intense and emotional reactions from supporters of each.
Students in Prof. Tim Johnson's Judicial Process class at the University of Minnesota checked smartphones and traded whispers before turning to the live TV feed at the front of the room. After a few minutes, they fell silent.
During Ford's testimony, many of the students leaned forward, heads in their hands. A few blinked back tears.
"It's incredibly important to pay attention to this," said Varshaa Thorali, a 21-year-old political science student. "The Supreme Court impacts all of us."
An assortment of veterans and retirees at American Legion Post 251 in Robbinsdale chewed over the Kavanaugh allegations from their bar stools as the Senate hearing played on muted flat screen TVs. Tom Juergens, the 71-year-old Legion commander, described the hearings as a "witch hunt" because Democrats would have voted against Kavanaugh regardless. Juergens, a Republican from Minneapolis, sympathized with the nominee. "I don't know a 17-year-old boy who doesn't want to fondle a girl," he said, adding that he disagreed with lifetime tenure for judges.
In Dinkytown, some students said they had tried to catch news about the hearing between classes.
When 20-year-old Jackson Billion got back to his apartment after a science class, he and his roommates tuned into the hearing on their TV.
"I thought it was telling that [Kavanaugh] seemed very angry and very defensive," said Billion, a chemical engineering major. "He seems guilty."
Some students, like 20-year-old Jack Rothstein, said they had yet to firm up an opinion. "I don't really have a side," the sophomore said, "but that does seem like a long time ago."
Johnson, the political science professor, said he chose to take class time for the hearing not only because it fit with his class but because of its significance. "When something like this is so relevant and so salient, it's just a perfect fit to have the students watch what's going on," he said.
Earlier in the week, Johnson showed the class the film "Confirmation," a dramatization about the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Clarence Thomas, in which Anita Hill alleged that Thomas had sexually harassed her. That movie was on the syllabus long before the allegations against Kavanaugh broke, Johnson said.
During a break in the televised hearing, Johnson reminded students that they were witnessing history. "This is a moment they will likely remember for the rest of their lives, where they were when [Ford] was in the Senate Judiciary Committee," he said later.
For Victor Lechner, a 22-year-old political science major, listening to Ford's opening statement wasn't just about history. As Ford told senators about her alleged assault, Lechner tried to discreetly wipe away his tears.
Lechner, who said he was sexually assaulted at 18, said that Ford's allegations should be investigated. He said he didn't have an opinion on whether the Senate should confirm Kavanaugh, but he said he would be watching closely and hoped other young people would too.
"I am just very grateful for Ford's testimony," he said.
In a corner of the Legion bar in Robbinsdale, Juergens and a couple of friends watched the headlines flash across CNN. Tony Gardner, a retired pipe fitter, said the timing of Ford's allegations pointed to a political motivation.
"You'd have to be blind not to believe that," said Gardner, 60. Even if Kavanaugh was guilty of inappropriate conduct as a teenager, he said, it shouldn't derail his career.
"There's two sides to this story, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle," he said. "What happened 35 years ago should not be indicative of the man you are today." He said that Kavanaugh might as well keep on fighting for confirmation: "Give the man a shot."
Kavanaugh "went from maybe a naughty kid to a real bad guy," said a man in a Hawaiian shirt, who declined to give his name. "It was only a matter of time before more women came forward."
The bartender, a woman, snapped back: "I think they're all jumping on the bandwagon!"
Back at the U, Amanda Milun, a 29-year-old political science major, said she had discussed the confirmation hearing with her boyfriend and family. No matter one's political views, she said, the importance of having conversations about sexual assault and consent was being advanced.
Alexandra Montano, a 21-year-old political science student, said she hadn't heard people talking about the hearing outside of class, but she figured that they likely would be discussing it after seeing the headlines.
Johnson said that aside from the political and legal consequences of the hearing, it was important for young people to consider the social ramifications of Ford's testimony.
"It's something they need to think about no matter what side of the aisle they are on," he said. "They need to think about not only the implications for the U.S. Supreme Court, but also the implications for women."
Waiting for a bus near his Dinkytown apartment, 21-year-old Ely Harel said that burnout on news coverage had led him to scroll past phone updates about the hearing.
"I've been trying to avoid it," Harel said. "It's kind of more reality TV than anything else, honestly."