There are a lot of people with opinions about Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, yet the majority of those people didn’t actually watch the congressional hearings where both of them testified. They watched highlights and excerpts from their favorite news networks, which filtered that information to match the narrative their audience wanted to believe1. I watched several hours of the hearing directly from C-SPAN2, and what bothered me most wasn’t the testimony given or the accusations themselves, but instead how both the Democrat and Republican senators used the entire hearing as a grandstanding event. They both used Ford for their political advantage, and then all the parties involved continued to lie to themselves and America in saying that nothing presented was politically motivated.
In 1990, Nayirah al-Ṣabaḥ gave testimony before congress on human rights violations in Kuwait at the hands of Iraqi forces. Her testimony was compelling, tears in her eyes, as she claimed that soldiers pulled babies from incubators and left them to die. Nayirah’s testimony contributed to United States entering the first Gulf War under George H. W. Bush. It turned out the events she described never actually happened. Her testimony was found to be entirely fabricated3.
During the September 27th hearing, every senator who was a Democrat spent some time honoring Ford for coming forward. If this had been an actual court proceeding, there would have been objections for senators testifying on behalf of the witness. The Democrats appealed to their base by outright claiming that Ford was telling the absolute truth. The Republican senators all yielded their time to the special prosecutor Rachel Mitchell. Democrats criticized the Republicans for relying entirely upon their special prosecutor, but honestly, it was a wise political move for them.
Ford repeatedly claimed her motivations weren’t political, yet she also claimed the reason she came forward was due to Kavanaugh being on the short list as a candidate for becoming a justice on the Supreme Court. Under normal circumstances, hindering an individual from a position would surely be a political move, however the circumstances in this case are significantly different. Kavanaugh was seeking approval to become one of the individuals that literally determine what is legal and constitutional. Someone who has committed any crime which could get him or her disbarred is obviously not qualified for such a position.
The argument on whether or not Ford’s actions were political can become ontological at some point; that is to say if everything is political, then nothing is political. If nothing is political, than everything is political.
Republican senators asked why information was withheld when it was first made aware to Senator Feinstein. Democrat Senators kept demanding a full FBI investigation. Someone was lying, probably all of them, and their dialog to one another was nothing but blame. Everything each Senator said felt as if it had nothing to do with caring about Ford or her alleged assault, but instead of painting a narrative for the public.
Ford may have been telling the absolutely truth about her assault. She could have also been fabricating everything. This is the difficulty in prosecution of sexual assault and rape. In crimes of theft or murder, there is often evidence that ties perpetrators to their crimes. Evidence is not always needed, as Troy Davis was executed with only eyewitness testimony, much of which was recanted.
In November of 2014, Rolling Stone published A Rape on Campus, an article describing an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. The fraternity where the alleged rape occurred was suspended, and protests broke out on campus against the alleged rapists. However, many aspects of the story didn’t match, the Rolling Stone article conflicted directly with statements from the victim’s friends, the police failed to find any evidence or corroborating witnesses to the alleged crimes, and in April of 2015, Rolling Stone redacted the entire story4.
A similar situation arose in 2006 at Duke University when Crystal Gail Mangum falsely accused three men on the school’s lacrosse of rape. A 60 Minutes investigation showed that many of Mangum’s statements didn’t match up and there was a general lack of evidence in the case, however it didn’t stop full-blown protests on campus against the accused, and demands for their expulsion4. Crystal Gail Mangum didn’t face any direct consequences for her false accusations, however she is currently in prison for second-degree murder in an unrelated case in 2013.
This isn’t to say that rape accusations shouldn’t be taken seriously. They absolutely should be investigated fully. Some would argue that false accusations are rare, but it is literally impossible to tell how rare they are, as people who are falsely accused may currently be in prison. False accusations do happen, and the entire
#BelieveWomen movement in deeply problematic in this regard, because it promotes the idea of immediately believing a victim, with regard to a specific type of crime, simply because of her gender. Promoting this as a progressive viewpoint goes directly the legal concept of “Innocent until proven guilty,” and promotes witch hunts over due process of law.
“In the legal context, here is my bottom line: A ‘he said, she said’ case is incredibly difficult to prove. But this case is even weaker than that. Dr. Ford identified other witnesses to the event, and those witnesses either refuted her allegations or failed to corroborate them. For the reasons discussed below, I do not think that a reasonable prosecutor would bring this case based on the evidence before the Committee. Nor do I believe that this evidence is sufficient to satisfy the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard.” -Analysis of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s Allegations, Rachel Mitchell.
#BelieveWomen is a catchy slogan, and much easier to market than
#InvestigateSexCrimeSeriously. The special prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, has been accused of being a puppet of the Republicans and that her questions were to discredit Ford rather than to discern the truth. However, what Mitchell asked during the hearing is not any different from what a prosecutor would ask behind closed doors (had the case not been leaked to the media), to determine if a case had enough evidence to be taken to trial. Even police in the United Kingdom have changed their official policy of always believing victims of sexual assault5.
People who claim to be victims of various crimes sometimes lie in order to cause harm to another individual. There is no evidence to suggest malice in the case of Christine Ford’s accusation. However, there is also a serious lack of evidence and corroboration, which would make it difficult to prosecute such a case if it came to trial. In such situations, the accused should be granted the benefit of the presumption of innocence until evidence or testimony proves otherwise.
Kavanaugh should probably not be on the Supreme Court of the United States. The debate about such an issue shouldn’t have depended on Ford’s accusations or testimony. Feinstein and other Democrats knew Ford’s testimony was not backed by evidence and could not be used in prosecution. The debate should have been on the merits of Kavanaugh as a judge and his interpretation of the law.
As a judge, Kavanaugh’s track record is problematic when it comes to consumer rights, labor rights, environment protection, health care6, the Patriot Act and his involvement in international crimes, including torture, under the Bush administration7. Yet it’s rare for a confirmation hearing to stop a potential candidate for the Supreme Court. Unless that candidate is as unqualified as Harriet Miers, it is unlikely a Supreme Court nomination can be stopped.
The highlight of this entire fiasco is that the Senate has absolutely no ability to stop a potential Supreme Court justice nominee whose views on the law are directly opposed to furthering the equality of opportunities for America citizens. Kavanaugh’s position on the Supreme Court will most likely promote increasing the power of the government over individual lives. Policy makers who have depended on the ability of the Supreme Court to bring about the social changes that they cannot via their lawmaking ability are now caught in a situation where that power is about to shift away from them.
The sad reality is Americans depended on the Supreme Court for any type of real change when it comes to human rights. Members of the legislature who support social change and equality recognize that dependency, to the point where accusations of crimes are used as a political attempt to slow down the Supreme Court confirmation process, and also as a campaign mechanism to appeal to their voter base.
This politicization will likely bring in more support for the Democrats from a progressive base, yet it comes at a terrible cost. It comes by teaching people that believing female victims in sexual assault cases is part of what it means to be a liberal progressive. It directly tears into the progressive belief that someone is innocent until proven guilty. It redefines part of what it means to be a progressive, and further drives a wedge into the false left/right divide in a nation that is already addicted to outrage.
Blasey Ford–Kavanaugh Testimony Tells a Tale of Two Internets. 27 September 2018. Ellis. Wired. ↩
LIVE: Professor Christine Blasey Ford & Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh testify - Day 1. 27 September 2018. C-SPAN. (Video) ↩
When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators . 6 September 2002. Regan. The Christian Science Monitor. ↩
Major police review recommends dropping policy of automatically believing ‘victims’. 22 April 2018. Evans. The Telegraph. ↩
Why the Kavanaugh hearings were a show trial gone bad. 7 October 2018. Matthews. The Conversation. ↩
Amnesty International USA Issues Rare Call for a Halt on Kavanaugh Nomination. 24 September 2018. Amnesty International USA. ↩