The Senate battle over the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh came to a head last Thursday, Sept. 26, with testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the subsequent response of the judge himself.
The allegations against the Supreme Court nominee have been in the news for several weeks now. On Sept. 16, Dr. Ford was the first to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault, followed closely by Deborah Ramirez and Julia Swetnick.
On Thursday, Ford opened with the statement, “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.” The professor of psychology stated that her family had already faced severe harassment and had received a disturbing number of threats in response to her decision to come forward.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the audience looked troubled as Ford described a party that she had attended in the summer of 1982. Brett Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, she reported, were present at the small gathering. Both men were visibly intoxicated at the time.
At one point during the evening, Ford remembered climbing a flight of stairs. As she neared the top, she was “pushed from behind into a bedroom,” she reported.
According to Ford’s testimony, Kavanaugh and Judge then entered the room, locked the door, and turned the music up louder. Then, Kavanaugh shoved Ford onto the bed and groped her, attempting to remove her clothing. When Ford tried to call for help, Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand. Eventually, she was able to escape and rushed from the house onto the street.
“Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack,” she recalled in harrowing detail. Ford was only 15 at the time of the encounter; Kavanaugh and Judge were both 17.
When questioned by the Republican prosecutor and members of the committee, Ford held her own, even calling upon her background in psychology to answer specific questions. Experts agree that the gaps in her memory are normal for survivors of such trauma. Generally, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the public were sympathetic towards Ford, declaring that she seemed honest and that her story was believable.
For his part, Kavanaugh argued that he never attended such a party. He did not question whether Ford had actually been sexually assaulted, but he denied that he was the perpetrator.
In stark contrast to Ford’s emotional but calm presentation, the judge employed passionate, divisive language throughout his opening statement, accusing Democratic leadership of “grotesque and coordinated character assassination” and describing the hearing as “a calculated and orchestrated political hit” and “a circus.” He asserted that he “will not be intimidated into withdrawing” and insisted that he “never sexually assaulted anyone.”
Kavanaugh offered some evidence in his defense, getting choked up when describing his niche hobby of calendaring, an activity that he learned from his father. The judge submitted his calendar from 1982 to the committee as proof of his innocence, although his lawyers acknowledge that this in no way exonerates him.
A yearbook entry from Kavanaugh’s time at Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, Md., portrays the judge as something of a party animal, listing him as treasurer of the Keg City Club and a Renate Alumnus, a reference to Renate Schroeder, a student at a nearby Catholic girls’ school.
Kavanaugh disputed the public’s characterization of this second comment as a reference to sexual conquest, insisting that he meant it to be endearing. Similarly, he explained that the Devil’s Triangle mentioned on his yearbook page was a drinking game, even though its common meaning is sexual.
In the hearing itself, Kavanaugh attempted to paint a different picture, suggesting that he spent most of his time in high school studying or practicing for sports. The judge admitted that he drank beer but refuted claims that he was a fixture at parties and was regularly inebriated.
Many onlookers were shocked and troubled by Kavanaugh’s belligerent speech and flippant behavior, describing it as unbefitting conduct for a potential Supreme Court justice. At one point, he responded to a question from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) about whether he had ever been blackout drunk by saying, “I don’t know, have you?”
Still, many felt that Kavanaugh had the right to be angry and dismissive and rushed to his defense. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) went so far as to accuse the Democrats present of trying “to destroy [Kavanaugh’s] life” and declared the hearing “the most unethical sham since I've been in politics.”
While the committee garnered enough support to push the nomination through to a general vote of confirmation in the Senate, it did so only after promising Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that it would delay the vote for a full week to allow for an FBI investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct.
As that probe and its subsequent review near completion, the information and evidence that have turned up remain confidential. Many have expressed concern that the time frame is too narrow and the allowed witness pool too shallow to permit a proper investigation, and Democratic senators have decried the rules and conditions set forth by the committee as an attempt to curtail the probe and guarantee that findings are inconclusive.
The vote for confirmation is slated to take place in the next few days, following an examination of the FBI’s findings.