By NATE HOCHMAN
Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings turned the #MeToo movement into a partisan issue. Initially a phenomenon that was praised by both liberals and conservatives alike, #MeToo was supposed to transcend partisan bickering; wasn’t this something every decent person could get behind? In the wake of the sexual assault allegations against Justice Kavanaugh, however, it became another issue that divided along party lines. Democrats accused Republicans of not caring about women, and Republicans accused Democrats of weaponizing #MeToo for political gain. This partisan division was tragically unnecessary; the Kavanaugh debate shouldn’t have been about #MeToo. Unfortunately, most people missed the point, and the media’s insistence on framing the Kavanaugh hearings in terms of the movement may have actually wounded its momentum.
I’m inclined to believe that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth. Her testimony certainly seemed to be genuine. It’s also important to note that none of us actually know what happened that night except for Justice Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford. It is almost exclusively his word versus her word; there is very little objective information beyond that. In fact, there’s very little objectivity in this entire debate. The inclination to believe or doubt Blasey Ford’s allegations is generally defined by whether or not one supported Kavanaugh’s confirmation before the allegations even surfaced. Liberals who opposed Kavanaugh’s confirmation were vehemently supportive of Blasey Ford’s testimony; conservatives who supported Kavanaugh were skeptical.
There are admittedly competing approaches to answering the question of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. On the one hand, we have the notion of character assessment, i.e. assessing one’s fitness for the job using a qualitative assessment of their demeanor based on interviews and personal references such as those offered by Blasey Ford. One could argue that the accusation by itself makes Kavanaugh’s character references weak relative to the standard for a Supreme Court justice set by those who precede him. It was this latter argument that Democrats and former Justice John Paul Stevens himself used to declare Kavanaugh unfit to serve.
On the other hand, we have the notion of due process, i.e. the premise that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. It was this argument that Republicans used because — as several pointed out — whatever our personal beliefs, the investigation did not yield evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; it wasn’t even close. At the end of a highly emotional week for all of us, we were sadly left with no more than hearsay.
Of the two competing principles, however, due process takes absolute precedent. Without a concrete standard of evidence, the process inevitably devolves into a kangaroo court. Let’s switch roles for a second. Imagine that four or eight years from now, a Democratic president nominates a liberal justice to the Supreme Court who affirms Roe v. Wade and is going to use their considerable judicial power to protect and even expand the rights of women and minority groups — fantastic! Except for one small detail: Republicans who, at this time, hypothetically hold the majority in Congress, find someone who says that this justice brutally murdered someone decades ago. The testimony is quite convincing. You object, reasonably, that there’s no actual evidence that this ever happened. That doesn’t matter, asserts the Republican majority, still bitter from the Kavanaugh hearings — that’s how politics work— evidence is no longer necessary to disqualify Supreme Court nominees.
Therefore, nominating Kavanaugh was vitally important for the preservation of the Court’s integrity. However, regardless of one’s personal opinion on the matter, the debate really had nothing to do with #MeToo or one’s feelings about women. In fact, the movement’s reputation among ordinary Americans was seriously wounded by its politicization. Future debates surrounding controversial Supreme Court nominees should focus on due process and preponderance of evidence, rather than emotional mudslinging. Only then can we really move the dialogue forward, from angry rhetoric to bipartisan solutions.