If you’re one of millions tuning into tomorrow’s high stakes hearing on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, don’t be fooled into thinking what you witness is remotely typical of such deliberations. The process by which the 22 members of the Senate Judiciary committee plan to hear evidence from Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, is anything but normal.
The Republican majority, terrified of how the sight of 11 elderly white men grilling the victim of an alleged sexual assault will play among crucial women voters in November, has rewritten the rulebook in unprecedented ways. To avoid such a damming spectacle, committee chairman Chuck Grassley, an octogenarian from Iowa, conscripted a female prosecutor to probe the witnesses on behalf of the frail, stale, pale males on the GOP side. What’s more, he unilaterally slashed questioning time to just one round of five minutes each for Democrats on the committee, no doubt fearful of the damage experienced prosecutors like Kamala Harris of California and Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar are likely to inflict on the besieged nominee.
Acceding to Ford’s request, Grassley also limited media presence at the hearing room and authorised only a single camera to broadcast proceedings. Overall, when you consider the Committee’s refusal to call witnesses who may corroborate or otherwise the events Ford describes, along with the White House’s refusal to instruct the FBI to conduct a separate investigation into the claims (as is normal practice), it’s clear Republicans much prefer damage control to due process.
Of all the procedural dodges, it is perhaps Grassley’s failure to subpoena Mark Judge that is the most galling. Judge, a close friend of Kavanaugh’s, is alleged to have been party to the attack on Ford, and his name invariably crops up in subsequent allegations from other women and in corroborating media accounts. Judge has told the media he has no recollection of the events in question (misrepresented by Kavanaugh-boosters as a denial which it is not). This is far from surprising, and in no way exculpatory. By his own admission, Judge was a blackout drunk during his teenage years, something he laid out in graphic detail in his memoir, Wasted: Tales of GenX Drunk.
However many rabbits they pull out of their hats to subvert the process, political and moral reality will catch up with Kavanaugh and his defenders tomorrow when Dr Blasey Ford finally gets to tell her story.
Judge, a right-wing Catholic, has a damning paper trail that includes defence of predator priests and paeans to unbridled male sexuality. A former girlfriend claims he expressed remorse to her over gang rapes in which he participated around the time of the Ford incident. All in all, Judge is a nightmare for any defence lawyer, who wouldn’t want him within a bull’s roar of the witness stand. But senators, at least in theory, are not defence lawyers. Their constitutional role is that of independent arbiters – and, if Mark Judge, the only other person in the room at the time of the alleged attack, is a terrible witness for Kavanaugh, that is no reason to keep him from testifying; it is exactly why he must.
By failing to call Judge, Republicans reveal the bad faith they bring to the process. Facing the possibility of losing congressional majorities in the coming midterms, no norm is immune from trashing for Trump-era conservatives in their pursuit of a Supreme Court stacked with like-minded jurists like Kavanaugh.
Meanwhile, the nominee himself has launched a highly unusual public relations blitz, appearing on Fox News with his wife and issuing denials in less than lawyerly terms, saying of one accusation: “This is ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone”. It’s unclear whether this is helping his case much. His insistence, for example, in the soft-ball Fox News interview that he barely touched alcohol in his youth stretches credulity in light of numerous contemporaneous accounts to the contrary. Stranger still was his claim to have been a virgin until “many years” after the alleged incidents. Since none of the claims to date involve sexual intercourse, it was a strange non sequitur since sexual inexperience and lecherous conduct of the kind alleged seem perfectly compatible.
In the end, his nomination rests on the judgment of a handful of moderate Republicans: Jeff Flake (Arizona), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). If two of the three bail on Kavanaugh, his nomination lapses. Each are expressing sincere desire to hear from both sides tomorrow, and they should be taken at their word.
Prognostication is a fool’s errand, but I’ve said from the day the Ford accusations became public that the GOP cannot withstand the confluence of these charges, not to mention those that followed, with the #MeToo moment in which they find themselves. That remains my view today. However many rabbits they pull out of their hats to subvert the process, political and moral reality will catch up with Kavanaugh and his defenders tomorrow when Dr Blasey Ford finally gets to tell her story.