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As the Supreme Court Turns

There was nothing on Thursday’s daytime soap operas remotely so compelling as the Senate judiciary committee’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, which of course was what everyone was talking about.
In the unlikely event you weren’t watching on any of the various news channels, or haven’t already heard about it from multiple sources, California university professor Christine Blasey Ford gave a convincing account of how current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were both high school students in the early ’80s, Kavanaugh gave a convincing denial of the charges, and pretty much everyone decided whom to believe based on their partisan prejudgments. Elsewhere in the news there are three other women accusing Kavanaugh of serious youthful sexual misbehavior, and some serious reasons the news media are very cautiously reporting their yet un-sworn testimony, along with plenty of circumstantial evidence that at the very least Kavanaugh wasn’t quite the straight-arrow high schooler he claimed to be on a unprecedented and ill-advised Fox News interview, and some witnesses on both sides that probably won’t be called to testify, but all that will also be probably judged according to partisan prejudgment.
These days we find ourselves on the political sidelines, with no real rooting interest in either party, so our best guess about the matter is based on more personal experience.
We’re as wary as ever of those damn Democrats, and especially their aversion to the originalist theory of constitutional interpretation that has always been the obvious primary reason they oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. On the other hand we’re just as wary these days of the putatively Republican and legally embattled President Donald Trump who nominated Kavanaugh against his party’s advice, and we can’t shake a healthy suspicion he was nominated ahead of other impeccably originalist candidates because of some his previous writings in White House memory and law journal articles that a sitting president cannot be indicted or subpoenaed or even investigated. We’d still like the think that the Republicans could come up with a highly qualified and stridently originalist Supreme Court nominee who doesn’t face such credible charges of teenaged sexual assaults, as they did the last time around, perhaps with one of the several more-easily confirmable female candidates, but this is the hand America has been dealt.
None of that much matters in the current he-said and she-said context, though, and we’re left with the desultory task of choosing whom to believe. At one point in the proceedings Kavanaugh spoke movingly about his mother, who was one of Maryland’s first women prosecutors and judges, and how her “trademark line” was “Use your common sense. What rings true? What rings false?,” and that’s how we’ve always tried to decide these darned complicated matters. Unfortunately for the trailblazing Mrs. Kavanaugh’s undeniably accomplished son, that Ford woman’s testimony rings discordantly true to our ears.
Most of our lives have been more happily spent on apolitical pursuits, but that has included some intimate relationships with women who have convincingly and heartbreakingly told of us the sexual abuse they have suffered from more powerful men, and we didn’t doubt them at all, and Ford’s accounts seems to ring true in the same detailed way. Over the many years we went to high school and college and worked in offices we witnessed countless men behaving badly, ranging from geeky awkwardness to credible accusations of rape, and we’re hard-pressed to see why a California psychology professor with a little-known but well-regarded reputation and a nice quiet family life would invite death threats and the condemnation of a major political to tell a lie about something she claims happened decades ago.
Women do either misremember or lie about these things sometimes, of course. The left will well remember the case of the “Scottsboro Boys,” the nine black American men accused of raping two white women on a train rolling through Dixie in 1939, whose innocence was eventually conclusively proved by the undeniably Communist-linked Lawyers Guild. The right is as quick to recall the more case of the Duke lacrosse team, all privileged white boys at an elite college who were accused of gang rape by much of the faculty and indicted by a Democratic district attorney running for reelection in a mostly black district, but eventually exonerated by the traditional conservative press and some up-to-date DNA tests. One never knows about these things, no matter your partisan prejudgments, and the very lawyerly Kavanaugh undeniably made some compelling arguments during his star turn on the news channels.
Still, our long and desultory experience of these matters suggests that rapes and attempted rapes and lesser degrees of sexual misbehavior are committed by far more numerous than the false accusations of such crimes alleged by women, and we’d like to see the Republican majority on the Senate judiciary call some more witnesses and let the Federal Bureau of Investigation do some more investigating before the country reaches any conclusions.

— Bud Norman

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An Anonymous Accuser Comes Forward, and Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings to Come to a Sudden Halt

When federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump we figured the confirmation by the Senate was pretty much a done deal, and that was all right by us. Over the weekend Kavanaugh’s promotion became less certain, though, and by now that’s also all right by us.
Kavanaugh’s requisite testimony before the majority Republican Senate judiciary committee was a predictably partisan affair, with the Democrats trotting out all their usual alarmist about what might happen if the Supreme Court starts deciding things according to what the Constitution plainly says and its ratifiers plainly understood. Even so, the Democrats also had some admittedly more compelling complaints about all the documents that Kavanaugh had withheld until the last moment and some potentially perjruous statements he made during the hearings and especially the quite expansive view of executive privilege that he’d described in some undeniable documents that had been obtained, which is will well worth noting given all the Trump-related cases that might eventually wind up in the Supreme Court.
Our admittedly amateur opinion is that the Democrats are on less firm constitutional ground as they worry that Kavanaugh might be the fifth vote need to overturn the abortion rights declared in Roe v. Wade, but our more expert political is that they’ve got a winning electoral issue if it does come to pass, so of course they made a bit deal of that.
None of that was likely to prevent Kavanaugh’s nomination, however, and none of it kept us from being more or less all right with that. Even when that oh-so-California-Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein spoke at the end of the week of an anonymous source who alleged that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her way back in his prep school days, Kavanaugh seemed a safe pick. He had a long list of character witnesses, including the girls’ basketball teams he’d coached and his fellow prep school carpoolers and their children, and that was to be weighed against an anonymous accuser’s accusations vaguely described by an undeniably partisan Democrat.
Over the weekend, however, a 51-year-old-professor of research psychology with appointments at both Palo Alto University and Stanford Univerity named Christine Blasey Ford went on the record as Kavanaugh’s accuser, and even after so many years she seems to have some corroborating evidence for an account that is quite unpleasantly specific. She claims that during a teenaged party in the early ’80s at a house in the tony little town in Maryland’s Montgomery County, two drunken boys from a nearby elite prep school cornered in her a room, and proceed to grope and rub themselves against as one held a hand over her mouth. She now names the two boys as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and bus fellow classmate Mark Judge, a filmmaker and author who has written for publications ranging from The Washington Post to the Weekly Standard. Both have plenty of character witnesses, but so does Ford, and sh’e released a family therapist’s record that show she’s been telling the same story long before anyone ever heard of Kavanaugh, and she can no longer be accused of hiding her reputation behind anonymous charges.
Judge was also the author of a roman a clef titled “Wasted: Tales of a Gen-x Drunk,” which mentions a classmate named “Bart O’Kavanaugh” puking in cars and passing out on the way home from parties. That’s by no means conclusive proof of anything more nefarious than the usual teenaged obnoxiousness, of course, but given everything else it suggests that there might something to the tale a well-credentialed professor by the name of Christine Blasey Ford is staking her reputation on. At the very least, it should tie up the confirmation process for a few more news cycles.
Given everything else, it might even wind up preventing Kavanaugh’s confirmation. All that talk about Roe v. Wade already had two abortion rights-favoring women Republican Senators from quirkily Republic states wavering on Kavanaugh’s nomination, which is decisive given the Republican’s razor thing margin in the upper chamber, and credible accusations of sexual assault will also further scare off those Democrats running for re-election in the states won by Trump. Not to mention the concerns about Trump packing the Supreme Court for his inevitable cases there.
If we were betting types and had any money to wager, we’d still be inclined to bet a few measly bucks on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but at this point we’d insist on better odds than we did before, and we’ll hold out some hope that one way or the other the truth will prevail.

— Bud Norman