There’s more at stake in Washington this week than the philosophical composition of the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Brett Kavanaugh is fighting for his name and reputation against the inquisition engineered by the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate, and what is struggling to survive is nothing less than hundreds of years of law, precedent and guarantees of justice inherited from Anglo-Saxon legal tradition. If destroying a reputation without evidence wins the day, the cornerstone of the American judicial system — the presumption of “innocent until proved guilty” — will crumble.
With her surprise witness Christine Blasey Ford to accuse, with evidence, Judge Brett Kavanaugh of attempted rape, Sen. Dianne Feinstein succeeded in disrupting the proceedings to enable a search for witnesses to corroborate the Ford accusation that a drunk, teenage Brett Kavanaugh groped her at a party 36 years ago. Mrs. Ford cannot remember where it was, when it was, who invited her to the party, how she got there or how she got home.
Judge Kavanaugh repeated Monday his unequivocal insistence that it never happened, and the witnesses Mrs. Ford said could authenticate her story said they don’t know what she’s talking about. No lawyer would go into court with a case like that lest he be cited for mockery of the law. Mrs. Ford asked for an opportunity to tell her story, and the Republican majority on the committee has tried to oblige. Her date to tell the committee the story is finally scheduled for Thursday, but after several postponements to enable her to quibble over arrangements, no one can be sure she will show up. The emergence of a second woman with a similar tale of harassment without evidence further muddies the schedule.
The circumstances of Sen. Feinstein’s game have all the earmarks of the down-and-dirty. She sat on the allegation for two months, passing up opportunities to question Judge Kavanaugh in a private conversation and three long days of committee hearings. Then she sprang Mrs. Ford’s revelation just as the panel was ready to vote.
The Democrats had vowed to scuttle the Kavanaugh nomination by any means fair or foul, and they are as good as their word. Nevertheless, the only relevant question before the Senate is whether Judge Kavanaugh tried to rape her 36 years go, as Mrs. Ford said he did. The senators must weigh the Thursday testimony, and then decide. Some of the Democrats on the committee are determined not to wait.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York says “I believe her because she is telling the truth.” Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii dispensed with all pretense that she wants a fair hearing. “I just want to say to men in this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change.” As the Red Queen proclaimed in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “Sentence first — verdict afterward.”
Some voters ostensibly supportive of the judge are making noises that he very well might have behaved badly with a teenaged Christine Blasey Ford — because boys will be boys. “We’re talking about a 17-year-old boy in high school, testosterone running high,” said a participant in what CNN described as a focus group of Republican women. “Tell me what boy hasn’t done this in high school. Please, I would like to know.”
From the casting couch to the Oval Office, men have used powerful positions to prey on vulnerable women, and men who do that should be called to account. Both men and women are capable of exploiting a weakness for sex with lies, and both men and women should “do the right thing,” as Sen. Hirono admonished.
But doing the wrong thing includes bearing false witness, and women no less than men are capable of bearing false witness, which is why, under our system of justice, men and women are presumed to be innocent until proved guilty. Both men and women, including senators from New York to California and beyond to islands in the Pacific, are obliged to put aside their own political and sexual biases to determine who is telling the truth. Justice must be blind, but not deaf.
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