Written by Vera Ting
In the days before his confirmation to the Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh faced allegations by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a former schoolmate of Kavanaugh’s, of a sexual assault committed thirty-seven years ago. On October 6th, Kavanaugh was officially confirmed as an Associate Justice to the court. The entire experience of this confirmation has reignited a national divide and has undoubtedly paved the way for an intense midterm race this year. In doing so, it has highlighted incredible political activism being done on both a local and national scale and the complicated, undecided stances of political leaders today.
Leading up to the hearing, many Republican critics pounced on questioning why Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who came forward with a letter from Ford describing the allegations weeks before Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote, waited on releasing the letter until she did. During the hearing itself, Kavanaugh repeatedly suggested that the accusation was an orchestrated attack by the Democrats to delay his confirmation. He said:
“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump, the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars of money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”
It should be noted that Dr. Ford would testify that she made efforts to bring the accusation to light in July when Kavanaugh was only on the shortlist of nominees for the position. This suggests that Ford’s action was not a “political hit” against just any Republican nominee, but an actual accusation against Kavanaugh in particular.
The events of the past month have inspired local communities to have discussions on action and responsibility. The Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center, La Voz, and MeToo Kingston hosted a discussion on Tuesday, September 25 that focused on solutions surrounding sexual harassment. The discussion was an all-encompassing talk that covered several aspects of improving how sexual harassment is prevented and treated. The talk looked at holding communities accountable, needing women to support other women, looking at how secondary harassment affects victims, teaching kids earlier on what is appropriate and inappropriate, needing to speak out by reporting sexual harassment and using inclusive language. Discussions such as these are important in emphasizing not only individual but community responsibility to act in cases such as sexual harassment and social/political activism.
Another notable voice at the hearing was that of Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who came in defense of Kavanaugh, stating, “If you wanted a [sic] FBI investigation you coulda come to us. What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open and hope you win in 2020.” Adam Liptak, who covers the Supreme Court for the New York Times, suggested that what Kavanaugh and some senators have done in this experience and in their statements during the hearing is create the public perception that this was a partisan battle between the parties for a political trophy infighting over a seat in the court, and have thereby damaged the impartial image of the Supreme Court. In the long term, this delegitimization of the Supreme Court could lead to a loss of respect and willingness to obey court-issued orders. As stated by Kavanaugh himself at the hearing, “This is a circus. The consequences will extend long past my nomination. The consequences will be with us for decades.”
This confirmation gives the court a conservative majority that will most likely remain for some time. There is also a significant possibility of increasing the conservatism on the court as the liberal judges on the court are expected to be the next to leave. However, this possibility may be counterbalanced by the Democrats taking control of the House in the midterms. Local representative, Republican Congressman John Faso, supported Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Although he is the incumbent in this year’s election, Faso is set to be in a tight race with Democratic candidate Antonio Delgado.
There have been some notable local cases of political activism that should serve as reminders of what a difference upholding civic duty can make. On Friday, September 28, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake was confronted in an elevator by two women, Maria Gallagher from Ardsley, New York and Ana Maria Archila from New York City. Both women, after learning that Flake would support Kavanaugh, felt moved to tell the Senator their own sexual assault experiences in an effort to change his mind. News cameras filmed as Gallagher said,
“I was sexually assaulted and no one believed me. I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter, that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them you are just going to ignore them. That’s what happened to me, and that’s what you are telling all women in America, that they don’t matter.”
Shortly after this confrontation, Flake would push for an FBI investigation before Kavanaugh’s final vote in the Senate. Although Flake’s decision cannot be attributed to this event with absolute confidence, the example nonetheless suggests the importance of enacting civic duty whenever possible, including in acts as simple as voting for the representation wanted.
The midterms could still lead to a Democratic majority in the Senate, which raises the possibility of impeachment if they call for a further investigation of Kavanaugh’s allegations. However, it is worth noting how only one judge in American history has been impeached, showing the actual difficulty of the process, and that these past couple years have shown an uncertainty in current politics that does not confirm that the Democrats will gain the majority this November. While many Democrats are outraged by Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Republican themselves have responded to this outrage with their own passionate defense of Kavanaugh. Yet in between such extremes remain the uncertain few party members who voted against their party’s wishes. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the only Democrat who voted in favor of Kavanaugh. Meanwhile, Republican Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota voted against him. This shows the difficult decision senators had to make as they voted with the awareness of how such a vote would affect their midterm result and a larger problem in the two-party system of government we have in place that divides along harsh ideological lines. In an interview on the 11th Hour with Brian Williams, former Republican Representative of Florida David Jolly said on the results of this experience for the midterms that,
“The Republican Party has said to women across the country, ‘We don’t believe you.’ And those women are going to shout very loudly on November 6, and it’s not going to be on behalf of Republicans.”
Jolly also suggested that while Republican intensity has increased and will galvanize Republican voters to cast their ballots, the party is also losing independent voters in their extremity. So far, it is too early to tell which side will turn up with a majority at the midterms. The only certainties in place are that the results will depend on the proactiveness of voters and that such results will echo Kavanaugh’s own words of “consequences” that will remain.