The last time I put digital pen to digital paper to talk about Brett Kavanaugh, I not-so-gently suggested that just about the last thing America needs is to put someone on the bench who apparently doubts the precedent on Roe v. Wade.
I’m not a fan of the notion that government should be in the business of telling women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies based on what, at the end of the day, is a rationale based on the purported “sanctity” of life.
That appeal to the nebulous concept of “sanctity” is beset with religious overtones and pretensions to morality, neither of which have a place in public policy.
This is a prickly topic, but common sense dictates that implicitly citing a work of historical fiction (the Bible) on the way to justifying a policy that curtails a woman’s right to choose whether she wants to give birth is borderline psychotic.
While we all like to couch things in terms of what’s “morally” right, public policy should be made based on secular appeals to common sense. You don’t have to appeal to “morality” to, for instance, make murder illegal. It’s not so much that murder is “wrong” (what does that even mean?), as much as it is that a society where murder is legal would be a society that doesn’t function because human beings, being a self-interested lot, would probably just kill each other to advance their own interests if left to their own devices. Obviously that’s not conducive to a functioning body politic, so murder has to be illegal.
The same goes for rape, theft, fraud, and on and on. Sure, you can say all of those things are “wrong”, but the only rationale for making them illegal that doesn’t ultimately rest on something we can’t prove is real (i.e., there is no proof that some things are “just wrong”), is that allowing those things to go on would make life unlivable and would quickly lead to anarchy.
[Aside: I, like everybody else, often lapse into using the terms "right” and "wrong” to describe injustices, but the harsh reality is that something is only "right” or "wrong” in the sense that it strengthens or weakens (respectively) the bond that holds society together. There is no divine judge of what is "right” and what is "wrong”. The "judge”, as it were, is social utility]
Importantly, each time someone gets away with one of those crimes (be it theft, fraud, murder, etc.), society as a whole gets a little less safe. The social fabric suffers a slight tear. I needn’t be the one who was robbed or defrauded to suffer from someone else being robbed or defrauded. The fact that robbery or fraud was committed with impunity is injurious to me because it suggests that the rule of law is breaking down and that at some point, I could be a victim.
Abortion, on the other hand, doesn’t fall into the same category. If my neighbor has an abortion, my life is no less livable than it was before. No actual harm comes to me from her decision. No actual harm comes to society from her decision either, unless you want to extrapolate about who the unborn child might have been and what he or she might have done, but that could go either way: The unborn might have been a saint or the unborn might have turned out to be a serial killer. We don’t know. What we do know is that there is no argument against abortion that doesn’t ultimately rest on pretensions to morality or appeals to amorphous concepts of “right” and “wrong.”
Over the past couple of days, Brett Kavanaugh has been accused of committing an act that, if he did indeed commit it, is injurious not only to the accuser, but to society itself based on the arguments made above.
Kavanaugh’s accuser is one Christine Blasey Ford, a California-based research psychologist who teaches at Palo Alto University and trains graduate students in clinical psychology. According to the Washington Post, she’s “widely published in academic journals.”
Ford claims that Kavanaugh assaulted her when the two were in high school. Specifically, she says a drunken Kavanaugh held her down on a bed, tried to pull her clothes off and put his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming. “I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” she told the Post. Ford has since engaged counsel and apparently has a polygraph test to back up her account.
All of this came to light when Sen. Dianne Feinstein, to whom Ford sent a confidential letter, referred the matter to the FBI, who then sent a redacted version to the White House. Fearing her identity would be revealed one way or another, Ford agreed to go on the record with the Post, whose reporters she had already contacted via an anonymous tip line a few weeks before she sent the letter to Feinstein.
Kavanaugh strongly denies the claims and on Monday, Trump called him (Kavanaugh) “one of the finest people I’ve ever known.” Of course that wouldn’t be saying a whole lot given the kind of folks Trump associates with.
Anyway, Kavanaugh’s previously inevitable confirmation is now in jeopardy and on Monday evening, the Senate Judiciary Committee said they’ll delay a vote on his nomination in order to hold a public hearing scheduled for next week that will feature both Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is going to be an absolute circus. “[It] sets up a[It]entially explosive public showdown that carries unmistakable echoes of the 1991 testimony of Anita Hill, who accused the future Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in an episode that riveted the nation and ushered a slew of women into public office”, the New York Times writes, adding that the hearing “will play out against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, which has energized Democratic women across the nation, in an institution, the Senate, that is more than three-quarters male.”
Multiple women claiming to have known (and in two cases, claiming to have actually dated) Kavanaugh have come forward to defend his honor (and seeing as how he’s a judge, there’s a double entendre in there).
Clearly, if Kavanaugh lied about this he shouldn’t be confirmed, but barring some kind of truly remarkable turn of circumstance, proving or disproving these allegations will be impossible.
Given that, and given that there’s presumably no shortage of people Trump could potentially nominate in Kavanaugh’s place, it’s not at all clear whether it’s a good idea for the GOP to push the issue here.
It’s certainly possible that this could backfire on Democrats. After all, the “base” is now at least partially comprised of uneducated voters who have time and again demonstrated a remarkable propensity to overlook similar allegations against the President himself. Additionally, there are those in America who are, frankly, sick and tired of the #MeToo movement.
That said, the optics here are horrible for Republicans. Sure, they’d like to get this over and done with, but at what cost? Consider this from Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein:
What I’d like Senate Republicans to say: They cannot know whether this accusation is true, false or somewhere in between. They do know such an act would disqualify Kavanaugh from this position and from any high office if were true. Kavanaugh (they believe) was otherwise a perfectly acceptable nominee. But the injustice to the entire nation of confirming him if the claim is true — and the message that confirming him would send if it is — outweighs the injustice to him personally if he has been wronged. Kavanaugh can still return to serving in the high office he currently holds, and Republicans still have plenty of time to nominate and confirm a (conservative, partisan) replacement while the current Senate remains in session.
Republicans should be holding themselves to an especially high standard on this, and not only because they have nominated and elected a president who has had serious accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault leveled at him. Politicians of both parties have, over time, been guilty of terrible crimes. But Republicans have a particular obligation here because their public-policy positions have put them on the side of those who oppose equality and full citizenship for women, and because they nominate far fewer women for elected office.
Beyond that, the mental anguish of this public hearing for Kavanaugh, his family and for his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, will be brutal.
True, Ford deserves to be heard if she’s telling the truth, but she’s already been heard. Loud and clear, in fact. This is going to hang over Kavanaugh for the rest of his life.
Kavanaugh, on the other hand, deserves to clear his name if he’s been falsely accused. But given that isn’t possible considering these allegations are decades old, and given that he presumably can’t be charged with a crime, and especially given that his career probably isn’t at risk from this, it isn’t at all clear that this is worth it for him. In the best case scenario, he gives the more compelling testimony and ends up getting confirmed, but it’s not like anyone is going to forget this, nor will anyone forget the climate in which it took place.
Coming full circle, if Kavanaugh did in fact do what Ford alleges (and again, nobody, including and especially me, has any way of knowing whether he did or didn’t), then it would mean that America is about to put a man on the Supreme Court who isn’t sure whether a woman has a right to choose whether to give birth, but when drunk, is sure that he, as a man, has a right to commit an act that could potentially lead to conception against a woman’s will.
Think on that, America.