This Hearing Is Stacked Against Christine Blasey Ford

Sep 27, 2018 by

The New York Times


It is almost unthinkable that there will be a second Supreme Court justice taking his seat under suspicions of perjury and sexual misconduct.

By Jill Abramson

Ms. Abramson is a former executive editor of The Times and author, with Jane Mayer, of “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas.”

  • Name plates of Senate Judiciary Committee members being set up on the evening before Thursday’s hearing on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination. Credit Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

There is a reason Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing will be short and feature only two witnesses, the Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey Ford. Republicans have designed the hearing to end in a “he said, she said” stalemate. No matter how credible Dr. Blasey is, isolating her as a lone accuser is the most effective political strategy for confirming Judge Kavanaugh.

His strategy will be simple: categorical denial.

Republicans will insist, despite the swirling uncertainty, including a third woman who came forward Wednesday with sexual misconduct allegations against him, that Judge Kavanaugh deserves the benefit of the doubt and should be confirmed.

Republicans will then be able to claim that fairness had been served because both witnesses were heard. But Americans, denied the testimony of other relevant witnesses who could support Dr. Blasey’s account and denied an F.B.I. investigation into other evidence, won’t be any closer to the truth.

If the Judiciary Committee votes to confirm Judge Kavanaugh on Friday and the full Senate follows as early as this weekend, as some Republicans insist, there will be a furious backlash. The Supreme Court will be left under another cloud of possible perjury.

Dr. Blasey is not a lone accuser. Since her account was first published by The Washington Post on Sept. 16, considerable corroborating evidence has emerged, but none of it will be properly examined at Thursday’s hearing. Besides Julie Swetnick, Deborah Ramirez has accused Judge Kavanaugh of exposing himself and touching her while they were both students at Yale.

This week four people who know Dr. Blasey, including her husband, signed affidavits and submitted them to the Judiciary Committee saying she told them about being sexually assaulted by Judge Kavanaugh before he was nominated by President Trump. Their statements provide important corroboration, and if the Senate was really interested in learning the truth, these people would be called to testify.

And then there is Mark Judge, whom Dr. Blasey said participated with Judge Kavanaugh in the high school assault on her and whom Ms. Swetnick said helped him lure girls into “side rooms” at parties to be “gang raped.” The Judiciary Committee has refused to subpoena Mr. Judge, who reportedly was hiding out at a beach house on the Delaware shore.

By airbrushing out all of this other evidence, the Judiciary Committee has left Christine Blasey with an unbearable burden. Unschooled in the art of political communication, facing questions from not just skeptical senators but also an experienced sex crimes prosecutor retained by the committee’s Republican majority, she must hope that the power of her story, the facts of what happened so long ago, are strong enough to convince the Senate and the millions of Americans watching on television. And she will not have the final say.

Her testimony will be followed by Judge Kavanaugh’s denial. According to his prepared remarks, he will allow that he was not a complete angel in high school, but will absolutely deny that the encounter with Dr. Blasey ever took place. He will have the last word.

We’ve seen this movie before. Back in 1991, during Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing, there were other women who waited in airless witness rooms to testify in support of Anita Hill. They, too, were never called. Two other women were ready to testify that Judge Thomas had made inappropriate, sexualized comments to them in the office, incidents that were similar to the harassment that Ms. Hill had described in her opening statement. There were people willing to be called before the committee who would have testified under oath about Judge Thomas’s interest in pornography, information that also would have buttressed Ms. Hill’s testimony. But none were called.

Instead, Senator Joe Biden, the Democratic committee chairman, fearing political backlash, abruptly gaveled the hearings to an end. Anita Hill remained isolated as the lone accuser.

Clarence Thomas categorically denied her testimony and famously denounced the hearing as a “high-tech lynching.” Just hours after the hearing ended, he was confirmed in a 52-to-48 vote, the closest vote ever for a successful Supreme Court nominee.

I was in the Senate hearing room, bleary-eyed, when Senator Biden brought the curtain down on that travesty of a hearing. It was only in the wee morning hours that I learned that there was a second woman, Angela Wright, who had been ready to testify that Judge Thomas, in the office, had asked about the size of her breasts. Several senators told me years later, when I was reporting for a book, “Strange Justice,” that if Ms. Wright had been allowed to testify, Judge Thomas might not have been confirmed.

At the time of the Hill-Thomas hearing, there was a lot more that was concealed from the public. There were four other women who would have supported aspects of Ms. Hill’s testimony and four others who knew about Judge Thomas’s interest in pornography. At least Hill was permitted to call as witnesses friends in whom she had confided about the sexual harassment she endured. Dr. Blasey won’t have even that.

After the curtain abruptly fell on the 1991 hearing, a confirmation vote was hurriedly scheduled. Now, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is trying to muscle through the same rushed vote. There was such nervousness in 1991 that more would come out about Judge Thomas after the confirmation vote that his swearing-in was also hastily moved up. Literally at the moment he became an associate justice, The Washington Post was preparing a story about his habitual use of pornography. (Ms. Hill had testified that the harassment she had endured involved him calling her into his office at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Education and describing pornographic films.) The story never ran.

Following the spectacle of the Hill-Thomas hearings there was a backlash, but not the one the Democrats had feared. The 1992 elections were called the “Year of the Woman” and brought six new Democratic women, including Dianne Feinstein, to the Senate. The new women joining the Congress that year called themselves “The Anita Hill Class.”

If the Senate pursues its current course — a rush to judgment — Republicans are certain to pay a political price, especially with the suburban women who helped elect Donald Trump in 2016. But getting a fifth conservative vote on the closely divided court — Judge Kavanaugh is far more conservative than the justice he is replacing, Anthony Kennedy — is what the base of the Republican Party is demanding.

It is almost unthinkable that there will be a second Supreme Court justice taking his seat under suspicions of perjury and sexual misconduct. These are the men who will be deciding the most vital issues in women’s lives. But Thursday’s hearing has a predetermined outcome. Here we are again.

Jill Abramson, a former executive editor of The New York Times, teaches journalism at Harvard and is the author, with Jane Mayer, of “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas.”

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