By Maddie Aitken ’19
On July 9, 2018, President Donald Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to become an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, replacing Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had announced his retirement on June 27. Although he was accused of sexual assault and had to testify in front of the Senate, Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court on October 6.
In July, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, came forward with an allegation that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago, when Ford and Kavanaugh were in high school. Although Ford had previously avoided the topic, she decided to share her story after she heard Kavanaugh had been announced as the Supreme Court nomination because she felt it was her “civic duty” to provide the details of the event for the Senators who would vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Both Ford and Kavanaugh testified on September 27. In Ford’s testimony, she addressed the backlash she had been getting for not reporting the sexual assault, saying, “I tried to convince myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should be able to move on and just pretend that it had never happened.”
As for the event itself, she said she was at a small house party on a summer night in 1982. One of the other teenagers at the party was Kavanaugh, who, along with his friend Mark Judge, was visibly drunk. Ford recounted the events of that night, saying Kavanaugh and Judge locked her in a bedroom, and then Judge watched as Kavanaugh pinned her down and began grinding into her and groping her. She said he tried to take her clothes off, adding, “I believed he was going to rape me.” Ford remembers trying to scream, but said Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand. “Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack. They both seemed to be having a good time” said Ford.
Kavanaugh testified after Ford and completely denied her allegation of sexual assault. He said, “I never sexually assaulted anyone. Not in high school, not in college, not ever…Let’s turn to specifics. I categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation against me by Dr. Ford. I never had any sexual or physical encounter of any kind with Dr. Ford.” He also said he did not have sex during high school, or for “many years after,” but this claim was not supported by people who knew Kavanaugh in high school and college.
Kavanaugh made it clear he believes the allegation is a political move by Democrats who are angry about the nomination of a conservative Supreme Court Justice. Later, Trump echoed Kavanaugh’s statement, calling the claims a “con game” by Democrats who were “trying to delay and obstruct his confirmation.”
Unsatisfied with the testimonies and questioning, Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona requested an FBI investigation, ordered by Trump, which set back the vote for a few days. Donald F. McGahn, White House counsel, advised the president to keep the investigation “limited,” and said that a “wide-ranging inquiry could be potentially disastrous for the nominee.” Despite this, the White House authorized the FBI to interview anyone it deemed necessary. However, five former Yale classmates of Kavanaugh said they tried to offer information relevant to the investigation to the FBI but were unable to do so, causing Democrats to challenge the legitimacy of the investigation.
As the investigation was occurring, two more women – Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnik – accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual harassment and abuse, but Kavanaugh denied the allegations, as he did with Ford’s. Women across the country came forward, and continue to do so, with stories about their own experiences with sexual assault, including South Carolina state senator Mia McLeod, television news anchor Connie Chung and author (as well as daughter of President Ronald Reagan) Patti Davis.
#WhyIDidntReport took off as a new social media movement, similar to #MeToo, for women to share not only their stories of sexual assault, but also why they felt they couldn’t report their experiences.
On October 6, following the completion of the FBI investigation, the Senate voted 50 to 48 to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. The vote ran almost entirely along party lines, with all Republicans except Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voting yes, and all Democrats except Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia voting no. Kavanaugh was sworn in that same day.