By Campaign Agent Matthew Waterfield
When President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, replacing the retiring Anthony Kennedy, it seemed like the process would be relatively straightforward. The Democrats would protest loudly, claiming that Kavanaugh threatened abortion rights, but the Republicans would act unanimously, with all seen as likely to vote for him, along with a handful of ‘red state Democrats’ (Democrats who represent Republican leaning areas).
However, all this changed when accusations emerged that Kavanaugh had tried to rape a girl at a party when he was 17. The victim initially remained anonymous, but after her name was leaked to the media, she was revealed as Dr Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University.
She wanted to tell Congress about what she’d experienced and negotiations soon ensued about the manner in which she’d be able to give her testimony. Senators from across the political spectrum supported her right to be heard, with even those supportive of Kavanaugh indicating that they were open to being persuaded otherwise.
On 27 September, Ford testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. After that, she faced questions from several Democratic senators, as well as an Arizonan prosecutor, on behalf of the Republican senators. The reaction to her emotional testimony was telling, with near universal agreement, even from President Trump, that she seemed credible.
By the time it came to Brett Kavanaugh’s turn to speak, his position was looking very weak and it seemed as if his nomination might be in jeopardy. However, his opening statement was passionate and emotional, not to mention partisan, and the mood in the room began to shift.
Senator Lindsey Graham, often seen as a moderate Republican, gave a passionate defence of Kavanaugh, claiming that the process had been a “sham” and laying into the Democratic senators present, accusing them of trying to torpedo Kavanaugh’s nomination in the hope that they could keep the seat open.
The Republican members of the committee, seemingly liberated by Graham’s remarks, began to question Kavanaugh themselves, tacitly acknowledging that the prosecutor’s questioning of Ford hadn’t had the effect they desired.
By the next day, Kavanaugh’s path to the Supreme Court seemed much more assured – one of the few Republicans on the fence, Jeff Flake, had declared his support for the nominee and even some red-state Democrats, like Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp, remained undecided.
Nevertheless, the process was once again plunged into a state of flux due to the actions of Flake. In an encounter caught on video, he had been confronted by two sexual assault victims earlier that day, who criticised him for his conduct.
Although the Senate Judiciary Committee was supposed to vote on the nomination at 13:30, this time came and went, with rumours abounding that Flake was having reservations. Eventually, it emerged that he had demanded an FBI investigation into the allegations in exchange for his vote; with this request being supported by fellow Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, Trump conceded and ordered an investigation. The investigation is under way; the FBI have contacted a number of people, including Deborah Ramirez, a classmate of Kavanaugh at Yale University who has also alleged the nominee sexually assaulted her.
Significantly, as part of the deal agreed, the investigation is to last no more than a week and unless it unearths dramatic new evidence, it’s likely that the nomination will be voted on by the Senate after that. What happens then remains to be seen.
Sources and Further Reading
Mark Joseph Stern, “Hello, Justice Kavanaugh. Farewell, Roe”, Slate (3 September 2018)
James Arkin, “Kavanaugh hearing roils red-state Senate races”, Politico (28 September 2018)
Ali Rogin, “Who is Christine Blasey Ford?”, ABC News (27 September 2018)
William Saletan, “What Makes Christine Blasey Ford Credible”, Slate (27 September 2018)
Jacob Pramuk, “Sen. Lindsey Graham explodes in defense of Kavanaugh: This is an 'unethical sham’”, CNBC (27 September 2018)
Eric Lach, “Sexual-Assault Victims Confront Jeff Flake and Voice the Anguish of Millions”, The New Yorker (28 September 2018)
Eric Bradner, “Jeff Flake's moment: How a reliable conservative cast Kavanaugh's confirmation into doubt”, CNN (29 September 2018)
Shane Harris, “FBI contacts second woman who has accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct”, The Washington Post (29 September 2018)
Image: Ninian Reid @flickr