Americans witnessed an extraordinary act of courage on Thursday: an agonized woman overcoming her fears to face a panel of U.S. senators and revisit, in excruciating detail, one of the most painful episodes in her life — what she says was a sexual assault of her as a 15-year-old girl by someone who, decades later, is on the verge of ascending to the nation’s highest court.
It felt like a breakthrough moment for a nation that only recently has started to come to grips with the sexual abuse and harassment women have endured silently for too long. The painful conversations prompted by Christine Blasey Ford’s powerful testimony could help women and men together reach a deeper understanding and acknowledgment of the damage caused by behavior once laughed off.
But that does not help in this particular instance, in which a vote may soon take place that could elevate federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh to a lifetime seat on the U.S. Supreme Court with a dark cloud over his nomination and far too many unanswered questions.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board already had deep concerns about Kavanaugh’s fitness for the high court before the allegations by Ford and others even surfaced. Documents detailing his time as a high-level partisan operative in a previous Republican White House were deliberately withheld from the public and even senators. His striking and unusual support of broad executive power and presidential immunity raised issues that go well beyond the disturbing allegations against him.
Kavanaugh’s angry, tearful opening statement was laced with sharply partisan attacks and an assertion that the allegations were part of a left-wing conspiracy and a “political hit” on behalf of the Clintons. These not only were unbecoming of a Supreme Court justice but were so extreme as to call into question his ability to remain neutral when faced with cases involving sensitive political issues or sexual abuse or discrimination cases.
For a judge who repeatedly has expressed his respect for women, Kavanaugh’s treatment of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who had the temerity to ask about his alleged heavy drinking, was shameful. Drawing gasps in the hearing room, he tried to flip her questions on her by asking whether she had drinking problems or had blacked out — this coming after Klobuchar acknowledged her own father’s struggles with alcohol. After a brief recess, Kavanaugh apologized, but the partisan punch-back and lack of self-control were disturbing.
Also telling were his repeated refusals to support the call for an FBI investigation. How better to clear one’s name than to lay oneself open to an investigation by sworn, expert law enforcement agents? No, the FBI does not reach conclusions. It searches for facts — something badly needed in these proceedings.
A sharply focused, time-limited investigation not only could bring light to dispel some of Thursday’s heat, but could do much to restore a measure of credibility to a battered judicial confirmation process.
Thursday’s hearing was a full-on circus, complete with a female prosecutor who was trotted out to take on Ford but who barely got a few questions in before being sidelined by Republican senators once it was Kavanaugh’s turn. Democrats often failed to ask critical questions, often just repeating the same questions asked by others.
The Supreme Court won’t always get decisions right. Yet it remains a revered and necessary institution, a final balancing of scales. There must be a basic integrity to the court, a sense that those who sit on it are held to a higher standard than most.
Kavanaugh has not yet proven he meets that test.