Confirming a Supreme Court nominee is an intensely political process. That’s certainly been the case with Brett Kavanaugh.
But the emergence of a woman willing to testify about her allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh when both were teens is a cry to put politics aside. California college professor Christine Blasey Ford deserves to be heard. So does Kavanaugh.
The Senate Judiciary Committee made the correct decision to hold a hearing Monday for both Ford and Kavanaugh to testify in public and under oath; vetting Ford via private phone calls, committee chairman Chuck Grassley’s preference, was never going to be sufficient. And if senators genuinely want the truth, as they claim, they should let outside counsel ask the questions. Political grandstanding to score points in front of TV cameras would only be a distraction.
The extra time also should be used to let the FBI thoroughly vet Ford’s claim. There are gaps and inconsistencies in her accounts. Agents should seek whatever details are available — corroborating evidence, contemporaneous or witness accounts — to try to stop this from devolving into a he-said, she-said battle. We wish Ford’s allegations could have been handled in a more timely fashion, but the most disturbing part of this is the allegations themselves. They can’t be dismissed by saying that sensibilities were different in the 1980s, or that Kavanaugh was only 17 at the time.
And if more time is needed for investigation, the committee should take it. There’s no need to rush. It doesn’t matter whether Kavanaugh is seated when the court’s term begins Oct. 1, or a little later. The court has dealt with having eight justices before — very recently. Republicans certainly weren’t worried about that when they let Merrick Garland’s nomination languish for more than 10 months until Barack Obama was out of office and President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the late Antonin Scalia’s seat. It’s hypocritical to talk about delays now.
The standard for Kavanaugh is not whether this is a prosecutable case. The test is one of character and credibility. He cannot be voted out of office in two years if found lacking. This is a lifetime appointment. His tenure will have huge impacts on our lives. Getting it right at the start is essential. His credibility during confirmation hearings already has been questioned on matters such as his involvement in the Bush administration’s legal justifications for torture and how much he knew about a computer hack of records belonging to Senate Judiciary Democrats.
Kavanaugh, stunningly, now finds himself being vetted by the American people in the era of #MeToo. There can be no repeat of the debacle with Anita Hill, another professor who came forward in 1991 with allegations of past sexual harassment by then-nominee Clarence Thomas only to be attacked and treated with disrespect by some Judiciary Committee members.
Ford and Kavanaugh will be heard. Basic fairness demands they be treated with respect and that the facts be uncovered. Only then can the Senate, and the American people, decide whether Brett Kavanaugh is worthy of a seat on the Supreme Court.