You Be the Judge! Presidential Power “Trumps” the Senate’s Advice in Appointing the Next U.S. Supreme Court Judge
Trump’s Supreme Court judge, Brett Kavanaugh, was appointed in spite of scandal during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vetting process. The findings of the FBI’s investigations into allegations of sexual assault as a young man loomed before him.
The most compelling of these allegations was made by Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist at Palo Alto University. Following consultations with her lawyers, Ford agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27th, 2018. Her opening statements were wrought with raw emotion and a powerful opening line: “I am here today, not because I want to be—I am terrified—I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”
Ford then described the events leading up to her assault, including how she met Kavanaugh, the kind of person he was, and what he and his friend, Mark Judge, allegedly did to her. Ford stated that she wanted to be as transparent as possible, and would do her best to recall the incident that occurred some 36 years ago.
The Democrats were the first to question her, alongside Republican-appointed prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell. For these senators, there appeared to be very little, if any, doubt about Ford’s allegations. They rarely questioned the validity of her story; rather, the Democrats took their allotted time to speak out to other survivors of sexual assault, and ask discrete questions such as that posed by Senator Dick Durbin: “With what degree of certainty do you believe Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?”
Ford responded, “One hundred percent.”
The Republicans, however, took a very different, yet tactile approach. They didn’t want to state that they weren’t persuaded by Ford. Rather, they sought to poke holes in her story and reiterate the point that there hadn’t been an official investigation, despite numerous requests to do so. Their position was that they didn’t have all the facts in front of them; and while they didn’t dispute Ford’s testimony, they couldn’t simply block Kavanaugh’s nomination without the FBI’s potentially incriminating findings.
These divergent positions by Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are far from surprising given both American partisan politics and the “culture” and “dynamics” of what may be referred to as the transformative era of the #MeToo movement, which highlights and encapsulates the stories, anxieties and traumas of female sexual assault victims/survivors. The Kavanaugh hearings reflected the #MeToo movement, as it is worlds apart from a similar case earlier in American history: the vetting process and appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court of the United States. Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Thomas had sexually harassed her at work, and senators picked apart her story, leaving her with a sharp twinge of regret for even coming forward with her testimony. Ford’s testimony, however, was met with words of encouragement and appreciation for her bravery to appear before the Senate committee.
Of course, in this context, it was the prerogative of the senators to support Ford or at the very least not attack her in this contemporary era of progressive thought and support for historically disenfranchised women.
Kavanaugh’s seat on the nation’s highest court could very well have an impact on the midterm elections which will be held in November, where all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be contested. The midterm elections are extremely significant for both sides as the Republicans want to keep the House and Senate majorities, while the Democrats are fighting to gain more seats and control of either or both Houses of Congress.
In anticipation of Democratic-controlled Houses of Congress, Trump had Kavanaugh appointed in order to equalize the “Democrat-ruled” Supreme Court. It would ultimately work to offset the anticipated power shift on the Court.
Kavanaugh’s appointment into the Supreme Court makes it clear that there’s a significant political game at play between the Republicans and Democrats. As always, we see the rights of disenfranchised and underrepresented groups in society being wavered back and forth with the political will of powerful “democratic” institutions.
Despite my thoughts on the issue, I urge my fellow students who read this article to look deeply beneath the surface-level events and delve into a critical analysis of the political, sociological and psychological motivations behind both sides of the case; did Kavanaugh deserve his appointment into the Supreme Court? You be the judge!