The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh is eerily resembling another conservative’s ascension to the High Court in the 1990’s; Clarence Thomas. Clarence Thomas, a conservative judge with a stunning resume looked assured of ascending to the Supreme Court until allegations of sexual assault by Anita Hill surfaced.
Republicans, already smarting from the way Robert Bork had been handled, closed ranks around Thomas. While Republicans never said Hill lied they made sure questions were raised about the allegations. In the end, Thomas’s appointment was not recommended by a 7-7 split vote by the Judiciary Committee. On the floor, Thomas still managed to win 11 Democratic votes and 41 Republicans while 46 Democrats and two Republicans voted no. To date, no other nominee has been confirmed by such a narrow margin (52-48).
The odds of Kavanaugh getting 11 votes from today’s Democratic Party are virtually nil and this was before allegations surfaced that make Clarence Thomas look like an absolute villain. Specifically, Kavanaugh has been accused of sexually assaulting Christine Ford when they were both in prep schools in the 80s. Democrats immediately called for Kavanaugh to withdraw his nomination while Republicans are willing to hear her out (she said she would testify before the Judiciary Committee) and would delay a vote to hear her testimony.
Delay does not equal a failed confirmation. So far, Republican swing votes have not moved against Kavanaugh. But, more importantly, it is interesting to see what GOP leadership and the rank and file are doing. Unsurprisingly, they are barreling forward with his confirmation. Judging by their actions and words it is clear they will hold this against Democrats.
Even before this, Democrats had done everything possible to stall or delay the Kavanaugh nomination. The first day of the Judiciary hearing was a laughingstock. The next few days were no better. In the end, Democrats did more posturing than anything else. On question after question, they tried to get Kavanaugh to tease out how he would vote on controversial issues such as Presidential power, abortion, gay marriage vs. religious liberty and more. Each time, Kavanaugh declined to state how he would vote following a doctrine established by none other than Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Of course we already know Kavanaugh is very conservative. That is not the point. The point for Democrats is to make him as unpopular as possible even if he is confirmed. But, only the base wanted the current fight.
Supposedly, the ranking Democrat on the Committee, Diane Feinstein (CA) has known about the allegations for some time now. The public reasoning for why Feinstein did not disclose the allegations until recently was she wanted to keep the name of the victim private. However, Feinstein also made clear in her conversations with fellow Democrats she felt the accusation was too old and they should focus on Kavanaugh’s judicial and political record.
It’s also likely politically true she knew if these allegations made it to the light of day the GOP would scream bloody murder. Oh, how a competitive reelection changes things. Feinstein reportedly referred the allegations to the FBI to investigate but she also leaked it to the media.
What has followed has been a mish-mash of responses. Vulnerable Democratic Senators have stayed silent or called for additional meetings with Kavanaugh, Republican leadership has closed ranks around him while rank and file Democrats have expectedly engaged in character assassination. So far, the only sign things have changed is some Republicans calling for the process to slow down and Ford to be heard. Through her attorney, she has agreed to testify before the Committee.
But the damage might already be done. Chuck Grassley, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, has made it clear one way or the other Kavanaugh’s confirmation will move forward. Until some Republicans pushed back and suggested a slower process.
That said, it is unclear if this fundamentally changes anything regarding his nomination. The allegations, as clear as they are, are as he said, she said from 35 years ago. It might sway Democrats but will even Collins or Murkowski be moved on allegations that are almost inherently unprovable.
If anything, contrary to progressive and women’s rights groups telling us how important it is Kavanaugh be stopped, the move only more politicizes the process and further reinforces the mindset that the #MeToo movement can take anybody down.
Until now, just as in the case of Clarence Thomas (even after Bork) there was a hint of qualification being a factor in the nomination process. Not anymore. Indeed, you’d have to live under a rock to think Kavanaugh is not qualified to be on the Supreme Court. Apparently, some people do.