'Brett Kavanaugh: justice for who?' / Cal Ashton
Content warning: rape, sexual assault, violence.
With the resignation of US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy earlier this year came a long-awaited opportunity for the US far right. An alliance of dark money think tanks, political action committees and the Republican Party has angled for domination of America's highest court since the 1980s. In 1982, the Federalist Society was founded with branches at Yale and the dictator-friendly University of Chicago. At Yale, its faculty adviser was Robert Bork, at UChicago, Antonin Scalia; both would be nominated for the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan. Money flooded into the society from dark money billionaires like John Olin, Richard Scaife, and the Koch brothers, who built the Society into a hothouse for training, credentialing and networking a generation of hard right judges.
A conservative replacement for Kennedy would mean a 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court. This would almost certainly mean the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the precedent case declaring abortion a fundamental Constitutional right. On an even broader scope, the Supreme Court could both roll back what little progressive legislation and case law remains in America, while blocking action by future Democratic presidents and congressional majorities.
Donald Trump's pick for a replacement was federal judge Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh has long been ensconced in the conservative legal movement, even working on the investigation into President Bill Clinton's “sexual relations” with then-intern Monica Lewinsky. Memos have since surfaced revealing Kavanaugh's eagerness for Clinton to be asked detailed and highly sexually explicit questions, such as “If Monica Lewinsky says that you inserted a cigar into her vagina while you were in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?” and “If Monica Lewinsky says that you ejaculated into her mouth on two occasions in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?” A study of Kavanaugh's voting record as a federal appellate judge conducted by the Washington Post places Kavanaugh as either the first or second most conservative justice in every policy area.
Kavanaugh's debut in the prestige press was a testimony to its intellectual hollowness. Numerous pieces celebrated Kavanaugh as a girl's netball coach and “carpool dad”. One piece, now particularly foul, was a Politico article, “I'm a Liberal Feminist Lawyer. Here's Why Democrats Should Support Judge Kavanaugh.”, describing the man almost guaranteed to overturn Roe v. Wade as a “superstar” and speaking warmly of him as an individual and mentor for young women.
In July, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford informed Democratic lawmakers and the Washington Post of Kavanaugh's attempt to rape her when she was 15. Kavanaugh and a friend, Mark Judge, both drunk, pulled Ford into a room. Kavanaugh held her down and tried to remove her clothes, but was unable to take off a one-piece swimsuit Ford was wearing under her dress. After Ford attempted to cry for help, Kavanaugh forced his hand over her mouth. Ford was terrified he would accidentally suffocate her.
On September 23rd, a second woman made a public allegation that Kavanaugh had sexually assault.While at Yale Kavanaugh joined a fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, whose members were notorious for heavy drinking and sexual aggression. At a party in 1987, Kavanaugh, while drunk, would corner Deborah Ramirez, and expose his penis to her, moving it towards his face.
On September 26th, the accusation of a third woman, Julie Swetnick, was made public through her lawyer, Michael Avenatti. Swetnick states that during the period 1981-1983 she became aware of the sexually predatory behaviour of Kavanaugh and Mike Judge. At house parties, they would get drunk and grope women without their consent. Kavanaugh and Judge would spike punch with drugs and spirits to render women vulnerable. Swetnick states that Kavanaugh, Judge and others would target shy women, or those who had attended alone. Sometimes they would take women into rooms to be gang-raped. In approximately 1982, after being involuntarily dosed with a sedative, Swetnick was a victim of such a gang-rape.
A clear pattern is apparent, and one consistent with serial sexual predation. Kavanaugh got very drunk, identified women who were vulnerable, and attacked them, typically with accomplices.
The response of the American right to these allegations has been universally vile and occasionally pathetic to the point of comedy. There was the “doppelganger” theory, concocted by Bush Jr.'s deputy assistant attorney general Ed Whelan, claiming that Dr Ford had been assaulted by another student whose appearance was allegedly similar to Kavanaugh's. There has been the generic and predictable response to any allegations of sexual misconduct, that the accusers are liars out to profit. While Dr Ford's allegation remained solitary, Megan McArdle and Bari Weiss both advanced the argument that Kavanaugh's attempt to rape an intoxicated young woman should not be disqualifying regarding his appointment to the Supreme Court, since he had presumably matured and changed over time. Online magazine The Federalist, which published a piece defending Senate candidate Roy Moore's attempts to date girls as young as 14 when he was over 30, and featured a “black crime” article tag as late as 2017, described the allegations and Kavanaugh's subsequent interrogation as a metaphorical “gang rape”.
Dr. Ford's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee hurts to watch. Her immense composure was clearly a great emotional effort. Kavanaugh's statement was a forty minute screed likely fuelled by alcohol. He ranted, contorted his face and cried. The allegations had “destroyed his life”, and were an attempt by “the Clintons” to get revenge. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who recently traded fast-tracking the confirmation of 15 judges nominated by Trump for a few day's off and a promise to consider renaming the Russell Building after John McCain, is actually a political mastermind willing to do anything to keep Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court. With shades of Seymour Skinner, he claimed he had been a virgin for many years after high school and a lightweight unable to drink more than a few beers. A legacy admission to Yale Law School, Kavanaugh insisted he had gotten everything in his life solely on merit.
Kavanaugh will very likely be confirmed to the Supreme Court by a Republican majority. He will write opinions on majority votes that will materially worsen the lives of America's vulnerable. After several brave women confronted retiring Senator Jeff Flake, begging with him not to put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court whilst recounting their own experiences of sexual assault, Flake made his swing vote to advance Kavanaugh through to a confirmation vote in the Senate conditional on the initiation of an FBI investigation into a crime that occurred more than three decades ago. The rushed investigation will likely be a fig leaf for Flake and his fellow “moderate” Republicans, Murkowski, Collins and Sasse. It is even possible Democratic Senator Joe Manchin will cross the floor to vote for Kavanaugh. An incoming Democratic president could theoretically deal with the current conservative majority by adding additional seats to the Supreme Court, or initiate impeachment proceedings against Kavanaugh, but these are the kind of hardball political ploys the Democrats ducked for the eight years of the Obama presidency.
A Supreme Court with Kavanaugh would have four members of the Federalist Society. It would have two graduates of Georgetown Prep. It would have two men credibly accused of sexual misconduct. And it'll take away the right of America's women to control their own bodies. One of those moments of brutal honesty in the decay of the American empire.
Cover image: Dustin Hefford, @dustinhefford