Warning: This article discusses sexual assault and violence.
Over the past two weeks, the world has watched Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, become embroiled in a politically fuelled battle following multiple accusations of sexual assault. On Saturday 6th October, following an FBI investigation that was tainted with a Republican bias, Kavanaugh claimed his victory, securing life tenure on the highest court in the United States. The Gryphon explores the recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh into the US Supreme Court and the implications thereof.
An undeniable and disturbing sense of irony has run throughout this case; the same man who has been accused of sexual assault and violence towards women will now have a public duty to assess the behaviours of others. How can his future judgements, potentially on similar cases, ever have legitimacy when he himself has allegedly acted so inappropriately? There simply cannot be a judge on the Supreme Court who has been publicly accused of sexually violating multiple women. But, there is. The entrenched male dominance in the political hierarchy of US politics has once again been reaffirmed.
On September 16th 2018, Dr Christine Blassey Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, stated that in 1982, when she was fifteen and Kavanaugh seventeen, the now Supreme Court justice sexually assaulted her at a party in Maryland. Ford accused Kavanaugh of pinning her to a bed, trying to pull off her clothing and covering her mouth as she tried to scream. She also stated that Mark Judge was present and laughing as the assault took place. It must be noted that Mark Judge was at no point subpoenaed or interviewed as part of the FBI investigation against Kavanaugh, raising questions about the Republican influence of the enquiry. Following Ford’s accusation, Deborah Ramirez, who attended Yale University alongside Kavanaugh, alleged that he exposed himself to her during the 1983-84 academic year. Shortly after, Julie Swetnick stated in a sworn declaration that she attended over ten parties with Kavanaugh and Mark Judge during the 1980s. Swetnick declared;
“I have a firm recollection of seeing boys lined up outside rooms at many of these parties waiting for their ‘turn’ with a girl inside the room. These boys included Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh”
Yet despite these accusations, Kavanaugh was confirmed along party lines, with a split of 51-49. There may have been an FBI investigation into the allegations, yet Trump included a caveat that the inquiry should accommodate the wishes of the Senate Republicans, and thus partisan politics prevailed. Ford and key witnesses that could corroborate her testimony were overlooked, and the FBI didn’t even consider Swetnick’s statements. Trump’s unwavering support for Kavanaugh did not fault throughout, branding him as ‘one of the finest people that [he has] ever known’. Furthermore, in his usual narcissistic manner, Trump successfully managed to make Ford’s accusation all about himself, considering her claims to be a scam from the Democrats that was aimed at undermining his presidency, and publicly mocking her testimony. Republican support in the Senate maintained, with no Republican senators publicly stating that they would oppose his nomination. The importance of maintaining control of the Capitol was sadly far more important than treating Ford’s accusations fairly, highlighting the skewed priorities of US politicians.
When considering just how rigorous the vetting process is for potential Supreme Court nominees, the moment that any accusations were made publicly against Kavanaugh, his legitimacy as a judge should have been completely undermined. However, the backing of President Trump, and the threat of the up-coming mid-terms that looms over the Republican party, who are clinging on to a slender majority of 51-49 in the Senate, allowed Kavanaugh to retain his nomination, reminding us all of the precarious chances that sexual assault victims have in gaining justice. A key component of being a judge is the ability to be apolitical and morally impeachable, yet the case of Brett Kavanaugh has completely undermined this. The knowledge that his confirmation would result in a swing to the right of the political ideology of the Supreme Court, has been a crucial factor in Senators decision making, as the conservative ideology that his confirmation brings to the court may have the potential to roll back abortion rights secured by Roe vs. Wade in 1973. Thus, his appointment will surely have its consequences of the decision making of the Supreme Court.
Despite his victory, Kavanaugh has experienced a wave of opposition over the last two weeks, with hundreds protesting against his nomination at the US Capitol, including celebrities such as Amy Schumer and Emily Ratajkowski. Following his testimony before the Senate, criticism of Kavanaugh from Democrats increased, with Democrat minority leader Chuck Schumer stating that his testimony was riddled with inaccuracies. Kavanaugh’s anger towards the Democratic members of the Senate judiciary committee was widely recognised, igniting concerns about his ability to remain impartial in his decision making. Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Kavanaugh’s who had previously backed his nomination, withdrew his support following the justice’s testimony, stating that he ‘cannot condone the partisanship which was raw, undisguised, naked and conspiratorial.’ The court’s traditional non-partisan approach, and by default its legitimacy as an impartial decision-making body has been somewhat thwarted by Kavanaugh’s confirmation. He himself may not have been held accountable, but there must be wider repercussions for the court itself.
Ultimately, a Republican agenda endorsed by the President and supported by politically orientated Senators saw the confirmation of a man to the Supreme Court who is wholly unfit to hold any legal position of authority. We can have faith that widespread doubts and opposition by the public and politicians alike will have seriously damaged the nascent justice’s credibility. Yet women across the world have been reminded that political power and ideological agendas will be prioritised over their own basic rights. Ironically, the confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice has done little but highlight just how deeply embedded injustice is in the US governmental system.