Jurisprudence

Christine Blasey Ford Must Be Heard

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation can’t proceed until his accuser has a chance to testify.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the third day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in Washington, D.C.
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the third day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

If the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh on Thursday, as currently planned, it will send a clear message to the thousands of women who have spoken out about sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era: Your voices don’t matter.

On Sunday, Christine Blasey Ford came forward as the woman who’s accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her in high school. Ford outlined the allegation in a letter to Rep. Anna G.
Eshoo earlier this summer, requesting confidentiality. That letter soon made its way to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who failed to act upon it for reasons that remain hazy. When the New Yorker revealed disturbing details of the letter on Friday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley refused to reschedule Thursday’s vote. Sen. Orrin Hatch, senior member of the committee, agreed with Grassley’s decision. In a statement, he declared that while “every accuser deserves to be heard,” a “process of verification is also necessary”—and if the accuser remains anonymous, no such process can occur.

Now that the accuser has gone on the record, we should take Hatch at his word. Christine Blasey Ford deserves to be heard. The Senate must pause the confirmation process and hold hearings—fair hearings that heed the lessons of the Anita Hill disaster, during which senators downplayed Hill’s alleged harassment and refused to hear from expert witnesses who could contextualize her experience. Hearings that are not rushed, that call corroborating witnesses, and that do not let Kavanaugh paint himself as the real victim. Hearings that will allow Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and other GOP moderates who have professed concern about rampant sexual abuse to listen to the victim and vote their consciences. A lifetime appointment to the highest court in the nation is on the line.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republicans issued a statement on Sunday complaining about “Democrats’ tactics and motives,” implicitly questioning Ford’s veracity. They appear predictably resistant to delaying the committee vote. It may thus fall on Collins and Murkowski to force their party to treat Ford with respect. No senator should be complicit in a scramble to the finish line in the face of such a serious allegation.

Ford told the Post that she believes the incident occurred in the summer of 1982, when she was 15 and Kavanaugh was 17. She attended the all-girls Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland; he attended the nearby all-boys Georgetown Prep. She says that she and Kavanaugh were at a house party, and that Kavanaugh was extremely drunk. She alleges that when she went to the bathroom, Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, who was also intoxicated, pushed her into a bedroom and onto a bed. Loud music was playing.

Kavanaugh then allegedly held Ford down “with the weight of his body and fumbled with her clothes.” He and Judge were laughing “maniacally.” When she tried to yell, Ford says, Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth. “I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Ford told the Post. She says Judge then jumped on top of them twice; the second time, she broke free and locked herself in the bathroom. Five to ten minutes later, she fled the house.

According to the Post, Ford first spoke about the alleged attack early in her relationship with her husband, Russell Ford, whom she married in 2002, telling him she had been “a victim of physical abuse.” But she did not provide details of that abuse until 2012, when undergoing a couple’s therapy session. The therapist’s notes, which the Post reviewed, say Ford asserted she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who went on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” (The notes describe four assailants instead of two, which Ford believes was a mistake by the therapist.)

Further notes from an individual therapy session in 2013 describe how Ford spoke of a “rape attempt” in her late teens. Russell Ford told the Post that his wife “recounted being trapped in a room with two drunken boys, one of whom pinned her to a bed, molested her and prevented her from screaming.” He remembered that his wife “used Kavanaugh’s last name and voiced concern that Kavanaugh—then a federal judge—might one day be nominated to the Supreme Court.” In early August, Ford took a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent. According to the Post, the results found “that Ford was being truthful when she said a statement summarizing her allegations was accurate.”

Quite understandably, Ford resisted taking her accusation public when Kavanaugh was first nominated. But she told the Post that now, “I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation.”

On Friday, Hatch complained that the allegations against Kavanaugh “are wholly unverifiable” and do not justify postponing Thursday’s committee vote, which would have sent the nomination to the full senate. That’s no longer true. These claims must be investigated; they cannot simply be waved away. Ford, now a research psychologist in northern California, has provided corroborating evidence. She has cast off her anonymity and allowed herself to become a target in an incredibly heated political battle. At a bare minimum, she deserves to tell her story to the Senate, to put forth evidence and testimony about the darkest moments of her life.

Feinstein called for an FBI investigation shortly after the Post story published, and that, too, is necessary. But sexual assault claims—especially those that involve a decades-old incident—are notoriously difficult to prove. In the end, it may well fall upon each senator to assess the evidence and determine whether Kavanaugh deserves their advice and consent. The confirmation process is fundamentally political. Senators must exercise their best judgment based on the facts at hand, exasperatingly incomplete as they may be. The question is not whether Kavanaugh can be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. He will not be. The question is whether Ford’s accusations are sufficiently serious and plausible to thwart his rise to the Supreme Court.

There is only one way to find out: The Senate must slam the brakes on Kavanaugh’s confirmation and hold hearings on this allegation. Senators must not manipulate the proceedings in Kavanaugh’s favor, as they did to prevent Anita Hill from fully corroborating her claims. They must listen to what Ford has to tell them—and the rest of us—and decide whether she or Kavanaugh deserves their trust. “Every accuser deserves to be heard,” Hatch wrote, before he knew the accuser’s name. He’s right. And now it is Christine Blasey Ford’s turn.