Sarah Kendzior is a St. Louis, Mo.-based commentator who writes about politics, the economy and media
One year after the #MeToo movement helped knock accused predators such as Roy Moore out of politics, American women have to contend yet again with an alleged sexual assaulter – this time, with Judge Brett Kavanaugh, aspiring to higher office as a U.S. Supreme Court nominee. But now, voters have no ability to stop him. That task falls instead to Republicans – a discouraging prospect for women seeking justice.
“Did you ever get in trouble?” asked Mr. Kennedy, as a red-faced Judge Kavanaugh smirked. “Were you more of a John-Boy Walton type? Or a Ferris Bueller type?”
Mr. Kennedy gestured at the row of pubescent girls. “These ladies are old enough to understand …” he trailed off, and Judge Kavanaugh laughed again.
As it turned out, Judge Kavanaugh was neither a John-Boy Walton type nor a Ferris Bueller type. He was the type who may have gotten away with assault. That’s according to a letter California professor Christine Blasey Ford wrote to her senator, Dianne Feinstein, earlier this summer, accusing Judge Kavanaugh of physically and sexually assaulting her in 1982 with the aid of his friend Mark Judge. The attack, by her description, was brutal and premeditated: “Kavanaugh physically pushed me into a bedroom as I was headed for a bathroom up a short stair well from the living room. They locked the door and played loud music, precluding any successful attempt to yell for help.”
As he allegedly covered her mouth and tried to tear off her clothes, Prof. Ford says she worried he would inadvertently kill her. She writes that she narrowly escaped by breaking free of her captors and locking herself in a bathroom. At the time of the alleged attack, Judge Kavanaugh was 17; Prof. Ford, like some of the girls Judge Kavanaugh paraded at his hearing, was 15.
Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination has been cloaked in controversy since it began, but the revelations marked a new low – not only for the sheer horror of the allegation, but in the response to it, which both reveals knee-jerk misogyny and illuminates what seems to have been a pre-emptive public relations blitz aimed at neutralizing the allegation.
On July 10, a bizarre op-ed by Judge Kavanaugh’s friend Julie O’Brien appeared in The Washington Post extolling him as a “carpool dad” beloved by teenage girls. Dismissed at the time as flighty – what relevance could being a carpool dad have to the Supreme Court? – it’s now of a piece with other anticipatory moves, such as being able to rapidly produce a list of 65 women from his high-school days who would vouch for his character. (After Prof. Ford’s statement, only two of the 65 reportedly still stand by him.)
Judge Kavanaugh’s alleged accomplice, Mark Judge, has a history of being accused of justifying rape and physical assault, including a 1983 yearbook quote (from a 1930 playwright Noel Coward): “Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.”
This makes Judge Kavanaugh’s contrived wholesomeness and flippant exchange with Senator Kennedy all the more revolting.
If he were applying for any other job, his list of alleged offences – which includes not only sexual assault but compulsive gambling, accruing massive debt that was paid off in unexplained ways and multiple instances of perjury – would halt the application process. But this is not any job, it is the Supreme Court in the Donald Trump era. Judge Kavanaugh seems to have been chosen by the President primarily for his insistence that a president cannot be indicted.
Mr. Trump’s solution to the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election has long been to fire judges or investigators he finds problematic while packing the courts with loyalists. In Judge Kavanaugh, Mr. Trump found an ideal lackey: an extreme right-wing judge prepared to exonerate the President of any crime, no matter how heinous.
The ability of Republicans to vouch for Judge Kavanaugh has rested somewhat on his image of propriety, a veneer that cracked with each revelation until ultimately shattering with Prof. Ford’s statement.
This does not mean, of course, that Republicans will stop defending him or refrain from attacking Prof. Ford. Some deny the attack even occurred while others categorize it as a youthful indiscretion, as if Judge Kavanaugh had received a speeding ticket or shoplifted – instead of allegedly covering a girl’s mouth as she screamed. They fret that just a few minutes will change Judge Kavanaugh’s life without caring that those alleged few minutes forever altered Prof. Ford’s. Victims of sexual assault would also like to choose to leave attacks in the past – but they do not get that choice. The past is always present, a nightmare from which one never truly wakes up – and Prof. Ford has to relive her nightmare on a national stage.
“[High school] was very formative,” Judge Kavanaugh told Mr. Kennedy. And indeed it was: It set the stage for a lifetime of allegedly irresponsible conduct for which Judge Kavanaugh faced minimal consequences, thanks in part to his social circle of power brokers who repeatedly bailed him out. He is not only a reflexive protector of Mr. Trump, but Trumpian in his own behaviour, transferring the President’s “When you’re a star, … you can do anything” maxim into the rarified world of law.
Prof. Ford’s willingness to come forward is not only about her past, but the country’s future – and whether law will continue to be shaped by men who see themselves as above it.