We all lost an opportunity to develop a better framework for talking about sexual assault
I only watched about 20 minutes of the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. I caught a segment of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony while I sat in a waiting room a few weeks ago. The rest of the affair seemed too predestined and too tragic to invest time and emotional reserves.
From the outset, we knew Kavanaugh would become the next Associate Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court. Not because of his judicial pedigree — which was largely ignored over the past two months and is generally acknowledged to be sterling — nor any particular belief about his personal history.
Simple math assured Kavanaugh his seat. In these rancorous partisan times, being a Republican nominee sent to a chamber controlled by 51 Republicans guaranteed the outcome.
Nothing could unbalance that tipped scale of justice, even if the eventual math read 50-48 with one Democratic “yes” vote, a Republican “no” instead voting “present,” and, maybe the luckiest senator, one Republican “yes” vote absent to attend his daughter’s wedding.
The full weight of Democrats and victim advocates broke over the confirmation hearings like a great wave only to leave the stone jetty of partisan politics unmoved. This is the world we live in now.
It’s hard to see any winners emerge from the entire process. Certainly not Justice Kavanaugh whose legacy will now always be viewed through the lens of the accusations made against him.
Republicans in general, and Republican senators in particular, took positions that made them clearly uncomfortable in an effort to appease their president and his base.
Democrats likely invigorated what had been an apathetic Republican electorate and seem destined to see November electoral gains curbed due to renewed Republican engagement.
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And liberals witnessed the dawn of a 5-4 conservative majority in the highest court, a majority likely to last decades.
Most disheartening, the political crucible surrounding Kavanaugh scorched the national conversation surrounding sexual assault.
Ignored throughout history, sexual violence emerged into open discussion through fits and starts over the past few decades.
While the occasional accusation would grab national headlines and spur watercooler talk, until last year none inspired a movement. With the extraordinary momentum created by the #MeTooMovement, families and communities across the country finally began talking about sexual assault in concrete, personal terms, and not just in the abstract figure of a sole accuser. Suddenly, victims began speaking out in our kitchens and living rooms.
No longer able to muffle or ignore the voices around and among us, a national dialogue began to take shape over the framework to balance believing victims while protecting the rights of the accused.
Fragile and tenuous, that framework began with assuring victims they would not be dismissed out of hand. Given the long history of conscious disregard that dissuaded prior victims from speaking up, that had to be the first step.
We had just begun to re-calibrate the scales of justice by balancing victim allegations against the rights of the accused when the Kavanaugh hearings hijacked the entire process.
Who to believe no longer relied on extrinsic evidence or the credibility of either party. Partisan sympathies quickly became the primary decision drivers. Loyalists on both sides weren’t so much listening to Ford or Kavanaugh as they were listening for barbs to use against each other.
The accusations, denunciations, and hearings became a tool for inflicting blunt trauma on the political opponents.
Amid all of the rancor, the progress made over the past year may have been lost. If the Ford-Kavanaugh fiasco becomes a prism through which people view sexual assault allegations, the setback will be catastrophic.
It may be decades before the damage is undone. Just ask Anita Hill.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, healthcare and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq