After 27 years, the Senate Judiciary Committee has still not learned how to organize a Supreme Court justice hearing that involves testimony of a sexual assault. The committee confirmed Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, with a vote of 50-48. He was confirmed after weeks of partisan disputes surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh that began in September. In response to the sexual assault allegations, the Senate Judiciary Committee allowed testimony from Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Ford claims that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her during high school when she was 15 years old. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is the only senator who submitted his vote with the contingency of an FBI investigation. After the investigation, Republicans determined the FBI had not found sufficient evidence. The Senate Judiciary Committee has not spent enough time or shown enough care in response to Ford’s testimony, much like Anita Hill’s testimony during the Clarence Thomas hearing.
Republicans have still not learned that the federal government is intended to serve the people and not the other way around. The dismissal of Ford’s testimony during the Kavanaugh hearing is the latest instance. Hill and the media have criticized the Thomas hearings as being unfair because the Senate Judiciary Committee did not include a woman and they proceeded too quickly. This resulted in the selection of an outside female prosecutor for the Kavanaugh hearings, who was only there to visually symbolize an advancement in procedure.
Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor, was stripped of the purpose and authority that most prosecutors would possess. Mitchell was not able to do her job well because Senate Judiciary Committee members like Lindsey Graham consistently interrupted her. In the hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley used Mitchell as a pawn that he could talk over and diminish. He did this by interrupting her whenever she had a question that seemed favorable to Ford, or by specifically demanding that she pursue a different question. The intention behind using an outside female prosecutor was that Mitchell would be unbiased and relatable, so Mitchell was not given the time or breadth of questions to have a bias at all. The majority of the questions Mitchell asked concerned Ford’s fear of flying or specific details of the night, which Ford could not remember. Mitchell did not have a chance to even “relate” to Ford. Grassley’s goal during the hearing was to hide that he simply didn’t care about Ford’s testimony.
Senate Republicans seemed to believe that only a woman could understand the experiences of another woman. This idea in and of itself is problematic, but it also implies that all of the 11 Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are unable to accept or understand Ford’s testimony when considering Kavanaugh’s nomination. Using Rachel Mitchell, a non-senator, as the prosecutor is unacceptable because there are a sufficient number of female Republican senators who could take that position like Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Twenty-three women currently serve in the US Senate, and many have a diverse and extensive resume of experience in sexual assault policy and law.
The dismissal of Ford’s testimony on the basis of gender similarly occurred in the Thomas hearing, but regarding race instead. Hill’s hearing differed from Ford’s because she was questioned by an all-white male Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate members intrusively questioned Hill during the Thomas hearing and later dismissed her also. The Senate Judiciary Committee attempted to deflect sexism in 1991 by focusing on accusations of racism against Thomas instead.
Republicans’ dismissal of the testimony during the Thomas and Kavanaugh hearings illustrates a performance of caring with little sincerity behind it. During the Thomas hearing, Republicans showed that the significance of the term “race” didn’t matter if it benefitted them. During the Kavanaugh hearing, they continued a political performance; their supposedly “relatable” prosecutor was not allowed to relate at all. Senate members should care about the people they are supposed to represent. If they are unable to do that, then they shouldn’t fake it. They should not lose their ability to sympathize and listen when communicating with someone of a different race or gender, during a hearing or otherwise.
Ellie Findell is an undeclared first year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.