The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court has run into serious trouble that cannot be brushed aside by a Senate Judiciary Committee that so far has treated every obstacle as a mere speed bump in its headlong rush to confirmation.
Kavanaugh stands credibly accused of sexually forcing himself, as a 17-year-old, on a 15-year-old girl when the two were at a party. The accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, is now a 51-year-old psychology researcher and professor. She submitted a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., describing the incident; had earlier told her husband about the incident; has said she has received medical attention for it, and has taken a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent. Feinstein referred the letter to the FBI.
That is not conclusive proof. But it is troubling enough that the Senate committee should want to see the outcome of such an investigation and have the opportunity to question both individuals under oath.
The allegation, however old, is a disturbing one. Ford said a “stumbling” drunk Kavanaugh forced himself atop her, tried to take off her clothes and kept a hand over her mouth to prevent her from screaming and alerting others. Needless to say, that is not standard conduct for teenage boys, drunk or not.
Under current laws, a young man accused of attempted rape of a minor might be tried and, if found guilty, be required to register as a sexual predator. Ford was affected enough by the alleged incident throughout her life to discuss it with her husband and a therapist. Kavanaugh, for his part, issued a statement on Monday calling Ford’s claims “a completely false allegation.” Someone in this scenario is lying, and the Judiciary Committee now has the unenviable but critical task of determining the truth.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board already has rendered judgment on Kavanaugh’s nomination, rejecting it in large measure because of his overly expansive — and largely unexplained — views of presidential power (“Kavanaugh’s dodge on executive power,” Sept. 16). Documents detailing his political years in the George W. Bush White House have remained hidden even from members of the committee while others have been withheld from the public.
At 53, Kavanaugh could serve for decades. The Senate committee must look beyond partisanship here. Thankfully, some senators were applying pressure Monday to delay the vote and seek testimony, led by Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine. Unwilling to allow even this latest development to impede a vote, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who leads the committee, first tried to assuage them by arranging “follow-up” phone calls with Kavanaugh and Ford.
By late Monday, however, it was clear that wouldn’t do. Pressure from within his own caucus forced Grassley’s hand. The vote that was to have been taken on Thursday will be delayed, and Kavanaugh and Ford will testify in a public hearing, under oath, next Monday. That could make for an extraordinary showdown, but may not prove conclusive. The committee should also seek a fuller understanding beyond what is bound to be conflicting testimony.
Grassley has imposed a deadline of getting Kavanaugh confirmed before the October start of the court’s session (and, not incidentally, before the crucial midterm November elections). But in reality there is no formal deadline, no reason to rush to judgment. The court has functioned with eight justices before, as it did in the long months after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, when a Republican majority shunned President Barack Obama’s pick and waited out the remainder of Obama’s term.
The call from Republican senators for testimony is a good step. It indicates at least some willingness to take a fuller measure of the nominee. Now they must follow through with serious and thorough questions and a commitment to set the bar high for entry to the nation’s highest court.