The Senate needs to get this right, and right now it is failing

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled next Monday for a hearing on Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh when they were in high school.

While there does need to be a hearing, this is yet again another example of GOP leadership steamrolling the Kavanaugh nomination without all the facts being made available to senators. GOP leadership is setting up this Monday hearing to be another public spectacle like the Anita Hill hearings were in 1991, and that is unfair to Christine Blasey Ford, Brett Kavaaugh, and the Senate. These fools have learned nothing in the intervening years.

Lat week Senator Dianne Feinstein referred the letter of Christine Blasey Ford to the FBI for further background investigation. All 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee signed a letter dated Monday morning urging Grassley to postpone the committee vote, urging that an FBI investigation should conclude before Kavanaugh’s nomination proceeds. Democrats call to delay Kavanaugh committee vote, after accuser comes forward.

The problem is that for judicial background checks, the client is not the Senate but the White House. And the White House Hasn’t Asked FBI to Vet Kavanaugh Allegations, Sources Say:

The White House hasn’t asked the FBI to investigate the allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a woman when they were in high school, a request required for the bureau to take further action, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have said they want the FBI to investigate the allegation. But FBI background investigations are conducted under specific procedures and through requests from government agencies — which in Kavanaugh’s case would come from the White House, said the two people who asked not to be identified discussing the sensitive matter.

Ronald Hosko, a former senior FBI agent who’s now president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, said “it makes sense for the FBI to vet the allegation, probably by first interviewing Kavanaugh and Ford, searching for more witnesses and trying to find any corroborating information.”

As Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told the Washington Post, “If there’s a hearing before that investigation, the committee is going to be shooting in the dark with questions.” “As a former prosecutor and state attorney general, there’s no way I would put a crime survivor on the stand in front of a jury, let alone the American people, without a full investigation so that I know what the facts are before I start asking questions.”

Exactly right. But here we are, thanks to the authoritarian GOP leadership.

Anita Hill has an op-ed today in the New York Times, Anita Hill: How to Get the Kavanaugh Hearings Right:

There is no way to redo 1991, but there are ways to do better.

The facts underlying Christine Blasey Ford’s claim of being sexually assaulted by a young Brett Kavanaugh will continue to be revealed as confirmation proceedings unfold. Yet it’s impossible to miss the parallels between the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing of 2018 and the 1991 confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas. In 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee had an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court. It failed on both counts.

As that same committee, on which sit some of the same members as nearly three decades ago, now moves forward with the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings, the integrity of the court, the country’s commitment to addressing sexual violence as a matter of public interest, and the lives of the two principal witnesses who will be testifying hang in the balance. Today, the public expects better from our government than we got in 1991, when our representatives performed in ways that gave employers permission to mishandle workplace harassment complaints throughout the following decades. That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement.

With the current heightened awareness of sexual violence comes heightened accountability for our representatives. To do better, the 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee must demonstrate a clear understanding that sexual violence is a social reality to which elected representatives must respond. A fair, neutral and well-thought-out course is the only way to approach Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh’s upcoming testimony. The details of what that process would look like should be guided by experts who have devoted their careers to understanding sexual violence. The job of the Senate Judiciary Committee is to serve as fact-finders, to better serve the American public, and the weight of the government should not be used to destroy the lives of witnesses who are called to testify.

Here are some basic ground rules the committee should follow:

Refrain from pitting the public interest in confronting sexual harassment against the need for a fair confirmation hearing. Our interest in the integrity of the Supreme Court and in eliminating sexual misconduct, especially in our public institutions, are entirely compatible. Both are aimed at making sure that our judicial system operates with legitimacy.

Select a neutral investigative body with experience in sexual misconduct cases that will investigate the incident in question and present its findings to the committee. Outcomes in such investigations are more reliable and less likely to be perceived as tainted by partisanship. Senators must then rely on the investigators’ conclusions, along with advice from experts, to frame the questions they ask Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey. Again, the senators’ fact-finding roles must guide their behavior. The investigators’ report should frame the hearing, not politics or myths about sexual assault.

Do not rush these hearings. Doing so would not only signal that sexual assault accusations are not important — hastily appraising this situation would very likely lead to facts being overlooked that are necessary for the Senate and the public to evaluate. That the committee plans to hold a hearing this coming Monday is discouraging. Simply put, a week’s preparation is not enough time for meaningful inquiry into very serious charges.

Finally, refer to Christine Blasey Ford by her name. She was once anonymous, but no longer is. Dr. Blasey is not simply “Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser.” Dr. Blasey is a human being with a life of her own. She deserves the respect of being addressed and treated as a whole person.

Process is important, but it cannot erase the difficulty of testifying on national television about the sexual assault that Dr. Blasey says occurred when she was 15 years old. Nor will it negate the fact that as she sits before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dr. Blasey will be outresourced. Encouraging letters from friends and strangers may help, but she cannot match the organized support that Judge Kavanaugh has. Since Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh have the same obligation to present the truth, this imbalance may not seem fair.

But, as Judge Kavanaugh stands to gain the lifetime privilege of serving on the country’s highest court, he has the burden of persuasion. And that is only fair.

In 1991, the phrase “they just don’t get it” became a popular way of describing senators’ reaction to sexual violence. With years of hindsight, mounds of evidence of the prevalence and harm that sexual violence causes individuals and our institutions, as well as a Senate with more women than ever, “not getting it” isn’t an option for our elected representatives. In 2018, our senators must get it right.

The Washington Post editorializes today, The Senate must hear Kavanaugh’s accuser in the right way. Here’s how.

The FBI should interview all relevant players and look into the extent to which any witnesses can corroborate Ms. Ford’s account or Mr. Kavanaugh’s denial.

The Judiciary Committee should then hold a hearing. Ms. Ford’s lawyer has said Ms. Ford is willing to testify, and so is the nominee. Monday night Senate officials said such a hearing would take place next Monday, which might be fine — but only if the FBI investigation is complete. The bureau should be given such time as it needs.

Concerns that a hearing might degenerate into a series of attacks could be allayed by following the advice of Ron Klain, the chief counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 1991 confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas, who suggested tapping independent outside counsel to conduct public questioning. This would communicate that the senators were interested in ascertaining the truth, not wasting more time on partisan Kabuki theater.

What matters is that this entire process — an FBI review, a public hearing with adequate preparation — be undertaken with a commitment to thoroughness and balance, not speed.

“It’s time to drop the artificial deadlines and do all this the right way.”

Bloomberg News editorializes in agreement, The Senate Should Take Its Time on Kavanaugh:

Most Republicans would wish to speed the process along — partly because, after November, their Senate majority isn’t guaranteed. They may rightfully complain that the accusation should have been made and examined earlier. Nonetheless, it’s in their interests now to pause. Rushing Kavanaugh on to the court under these circumstances would unleash a righteous fury that would likely hurt Republicans most. Far more important, it might gravely damage the court, the Senate, the White House and the nation — by telling women, not for the first time, that they are second-class citizens.

The Senate should take as long as necessary to get this appointment right.

But this is not where we are today. The American people have to pressure Republicans for the FBI to complete a background investigation into Dr. Ford’s allegations and to schedule a hearing only after all information is made available to senators. Otherwise we are headed for another public spectacle, which is entirely avoidable, only because Republicans want it that way.





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One response to “The Senate needs to get this right, and right now it is failing

  1. Concerned Citizen

    Zero tolerance for Kavanaugh and his white male elitist upbringing that is now on display! … I watched the Anita Hill hearings, as the all-white mail senators degraded and demeaned her in front of her elderly parents and the world, in total humiliation. What has changed? Look at Arizona still living in the ’50’s, as the now old white male privilege still controls women’s lives and reproductive health care with a “boot on women’s necks”. Protecting Kavanaugh because he is “one of the boys” is unacceptable, when Arizona sex crimes with a minor, i.e. the Catholic priest abuse scandals that go back decades are still being prosecuted. Reminder: there is NO presumption of innocence in these crimes in Arizona, where the accused is presumed guilty, and must prove their innocence, since there is “no intent” in Arizona. These zero tolerance laws written by the same white males are coming back to bite them in the behind! Now it’s their turn to feel what it is like. Ordinary people have spent decades in prison for alleged “touching” and/or changing a baby’s diaper in Arizona. Kavanaugh is the one who should be tried like the Catholic priests and be sent to prison. Oust Kavanaugh!