Published 8:15 PM EDT Sep 27, 2018
A brutal and divisive confirmation battle was inevitable the day Justice Anthony Kennedy retired and put the ideological balance of the Supreme Court into play.
But few could have predicted that it would descend into a raw, ugly replay of the 1991 Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas showdown, this one featuring allegations of sexual assault against a nominee in the midst of the #MeToo era.
That’s what the nomination battle came down to Thursday: several historic hours for accuser Christine Blasey Ford and then Brett Kavanaugh to provide their irreconcilable assertions before 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Republicans went into the hearing with a simple strategy: She says. He denies. Let’s vote. Indeed, immediately after the hearing ended, President Donald Trump declared Kavanaugh's testimony "powerful, honest, and riveting" and said the Senate must vote.
OPPOSING VIEW: Time to vote on Kavanaugh. Democrats savage a good man.
If a quick vote was ever tenable, Ford's emotional and credible-sounding testimony, along with new allegations against Kavanaugh in the past few days, make it politically indefensible. Nor is a railroaded nomination a responsible way to make a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.
At this point, Republicans need to pause their rush to confirmation to get more questions answered, preferably by an FBI investigation or special counsels named by Republicans and Democrats. No honest inquiry into Kavanaugh's fitness to serve on the Supreme Court can end without a further search for the truth.
At a minimum, Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh whom Ford has alleged was an accomplice and witness to the assault, should be subpoenaed to testify and cross-examined by Republicans and Democrats.
Investigators should also question two other teenagers identified as guests at the gathering, along with two more women who've made serious sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh this week. Sworn statements without the benefit of a cross-examination will not do in this case.
During Thursday's hearing, Ford, her voice quavering and near tears at some points, laid out the now familiar details of her allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house party when both were teenagers. While some Republicans have floated suggestions that it was someone else whom Ford mistook for Kavanaugh, she asserted she was “100 percent” certain it was Kavanaugh. "Uproarious laughter" by a drunken Kavanaugh and Judge left an "indelible" imprint in her mind, she testified.
If the Republican strategy was to use gaps in Ford’s story — exactly where the party was, how she got there and how she got home — to destroy her credibility, it didn't succeed. As several Democrats said, someone lying would make up a seamless story, not one with questionable holes. At the same time, those holes make it difficult for Kavanaugh to defend himself.
When it was his turn, Kavanaugh largely abandoned the calm, studious demeanor of the earlier hearings. Echoing Thomas' flat denials and "high-tech lynching" claim a generation earlier, Kavanaugh lashed out emotionally at Democrats, accusing them of “lying in wait” with last-minute accusations after he had come through committee hearings largely unscathed and seemingly headed for confirmation.
Kavanaugh, who had been a top deputy in the independent counsel investigation that led to former President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, accused Democrats of seeking “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” The Senate's process of "advice and consent" has been replaced with "search and destroy," he said.
While Kavanaugh also put forth a lawyerly defense to Ford’s allegations, his inclination to see the accusation not as a serious charge but as a political hit job reinforces concerns that, if confirmed, he would be a partisan first and impartial jurist second.
As the hours dragged on in the Senate hearing room, few new facts were revealed. The Senate and the public were left in the same quandary over who — Ford or Kavanaugh — is speaking the truth. If Ford and the other accusers are not, a distinguished jurist has been smeared. If Kavanaugh is not, it goes directly to his fitness to sit on the Supreme Court.
All the more reason to hit the pause button and gather more information before proceeding. Yes, that fact-finding might be inconclusive. But a rush to a vote without making further efforts to get to the truth will cast a cloud over the high court, leaving Americans to wonder whether they should trust the decisions justices make about their lives and liberty.
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