Contributor Coline Baralon is a second year in International Relations, with growing interests in the topics of feminism, human rights and diplomacy.
Editor’s Note: As a young, queer, American woman who has found it incredibly difficult to tune into the news of her home country, I feel the need to lend my voice to this discussion. Dr. Ford did her civic duty, this is mine, and this is ours. The anger I’m feeling is gendered, the violence we face as women is gendered. Don’t let anyone tell you to let go of this anger, make it productive, let it drive you raise your own voice. If you haven’t been able to watch the hearings for your own health, this article summarises what you need to know to raise your voice. If Kavanaugh is going to serve his full life term, remind him of your fury every day. And if you’re able to vote in the US mid-terms, vote. Vote out every senator that voted yes. Register to vote here https://www.rockthevote.org/.
TW: Sexual Assault
On Saturday, October 6th the US Vice-President Mike Pence announced to the US Senate the confirmation of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, 53 years of age and Republican, as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. The Senate vote resulted in 50 votes “yes” and 48 “no”, terminating the battle between the Democrat and the Republican senators and all over the internet. At the least, the fight will now have to be pursued differently. In what follows, I intend to clarify what this confirmation implies on many several levels, what it suggests about the highest instance of the United States and what it means for the American people.
In early July, President Donald Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh as his Republican nominee to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy to the Supreme Court of the United States. But by the end of the month, Dr Christine Blasey Ford, a Professor of Psychology at Palo Alto University and a Research Psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine had sent a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, to reveal that while in high school in the summer of 1982, she had been “physically and sexually assaulted” by Donald Trump’s nominee for the Court. She was not the only woman that accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault. On the 23rd of October, The New Yorker revealed that Deborah Ramirez, who attended Yale University with Kavanaugh 35 years ago, testified that “he had exposed himself on her at a drunken dormitory party” and required an FBI investigation. Then, a third woman named Julie Swetnick accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, in this case of “gang rape” of other women.
On September 26th, Dr Christine Blasey Ford had the opportunity to fulfil what she calledher “civic duty”, namely to tell her story and answer questions on her allegations in front of the US Senate Judiciary Committee priory to Kavanaugh’s hearing. Dr Ford engaged in an emotional and painful declaration, affirming that during the alleged assault involving Brett Kavanaugh and in the presence of his friend Mark Judge, both being “visibly drunk”, she “believed he was going to rape her”. “Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life”, she added.
During his hearing, an angry Brett Kavanaugh denied all three allegations completely and called Ford’s testimony a “national disgrace”, ensuring his own credibility remained doubtful. He stated that the allegations were an attempt to prevent his access to the supreme court and to tarnish his name. A key point of the interrogation was the recourse to an FBI investigation prior to the Senate’s vote on Kavanaugh’s seat at the supreme court, as requested by some senators such as Sen. Dick Durbin, who demanded a withholding of the confirmation process in the meantime. As a result, the FBI did run the investigation, in under a week and the report has been considered rather “incomplete” by several Democrats, Sen. Diane Feinstein among others on the ground that several witnesses were not contacted to testify. Ultimately, the report that remains confidential did not draw any definitive conclusion.
Sexual assault, like most crimes, is subjected to the principle of “statute of limitation”, referring to “the time period within which formal criminal charges must be brought after a crime has been committed” in order to lead to legal sanctions. In this regard, Ford’s accusations date back 36 years ago: if her accusations were to be confirmed by an FBI investigation, Kavanaugh should be devoid of responsibility. However, when the matter at stake is one seat out of as little as nine justices at the Supreme Court in a country as symbolically powerful as the United States, I believe higher standards of responsibility should be demanded.
Indeed, the Supreme Court is the highest court in the US federal judiciary. The justices are the “final arbitrary”: they “have the ultimate say on such contentious issues as abortion and gun control”. But most importantly, they are appointed for life. For the above reasons, I believe that yes, a decades–old sexual assault matters and should impact the access to such an amount of power for such a long time. It should matter because of the nature of the act, but also because if the investigation had been held thoroughly and the allegations proven right, Kavanaugh would have been guilty of perjury in front of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, which would undoubtedly question his integrity on the whole.
In fact, I have not even mentioned the most serious issue yet in regard to what happened the last few days. Judge Brett Kavanaugh – might as well say Justice Brett Kavanaugh – is a Republican with alarming views and has been elected by this small majority in part because of them.
Regarding abortion, in a dissent from 2017, Kavanaugh mentioned “that the Government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating abortion”. These political views on abortion were to be expected from Donald Trump’s nominee considering the President said himself as early as 2016, that he “would be appointing pro-life judges” in order to have the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the US Case Law that established “a woman’s right to have an abortion”.
On the environmental matter, Kavanaugh believes in global warming but questions the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to act on it. John Walk, the Clean Air Director and senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) accused Kavanaugh of “mischaracterising” one of his cases in order to disguise his opinions as more consensual and environment-friendly although he “ruled against on 3 of their 4 challenges”. And it does not stop here. In an article that he wrote named “Separation of Powers during the forty-fourth presidency and beyond”, Kavanaugh made the following proposal: “Provide sitting presidents with a temporary deferral of civil suits and of criminal prosecutions and investigations”, namely exempting presidents in office from being subjected to the same process as everyone else. Last but not least, Justice Brett Kavanaugh challenges net neutrality that he considers “unlawful”, he refused to give his personal opinion about same-sex marriage during the third day of confirmation hearings and the list does not stop there. In any case, if the Senate had voted in majority against him on Saturday, Donald Trump would have appointed another nominee with similar conservative and dangerous views – although maybe not accused of sexual misconduct this time.
Donald Trump made a very “excited” declaration on Twitter following the Senate’s verdict, which formalizes the second appointment he made in the Supreme Court since the beginning of his mandate in January 2017. In the end, what anti-Trump feared the most since the election has happened: if the authority of Donald Trump will eventually terminate in a couple of years, the political views of those appointed justices however, will influence American laws for decades.