It’s not Brett Kavanaugh’s fault that the anonymous complaint against him was not properly handled when it came to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s attention in July.
The committee reportedly dismissed it as too old and anonymous.
That is not the advice I would give to any corporate client in 2018. How long does it take to follow up? Not every complaint deserves review, but this one obviously lined up in terms of dates, places and the like. It was credible enough for Rep. Anna Eshoo to forward it to Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But it appears no one followed up until the hearings had concluded, the nomination appeared sewed up and word of the complaint started to leak, forcing the woman to come forward.
If someone had submitted a complaint that the Supreme Court nominee had robbed and beaten a man in a high school fight, would it have been similarly dismissed?
And if the answer is that a couple of kids groping at a high school party is different from a “real” assault, why doesn’t anyone have the nerve to say that?
As it happens, Judge Kavanaugh has spared us the necessity of debating any of the hard questions this case might have posed like, how do we judge conduct that happened decades ago, when women put up with what they should not have had to? How do we determine truth so many years later, when memories and impressions may be both truthful and differently shaded? What is the standard for judging the past transgressions of would-be public leaders?
Had Kavanaugh come out and said, “Of course I knew this woman years ago. We went to parties together. Sometimes we drank. We may have even hugged, but I never assaulted her,” things would be very different.
There’d be two different versions, both of which could have the ring of truth from the perspectives — the very different perspectives — of the boy and the girl. No one lying. No truth to be found. A decision of whether this is enough to cost him a seat, not whether she is a liar.
Instead, Kavanaugh did what politicians are always tempted to do when confronted with bad news: deny, deny, deny. It never happened. There was no party, nothing like that. And to make it worse, the president piled on, asking questions that made clear his singular ignorance of sexual assault studies that explain in detail why women often delay in reporting such complaints or don’t report them at all, and especially how they often don’t tell their parents because they may be abused.
So now the issue isn’t how we as a society deal with charges like these in cases like this, so as to be fair to both parties.
Nope, it’s Anita Hill all over again, although in truth, the cases are very different. But the question has become the same: Is the woman lying?
Christine Blasey Ford has been accused of making all this up. She has been branded a liar, by the nominee and the president. The latest complainant has been dismissed as a pure “smear.” Did Jane Mayer, who wrote the book on Anita Hill and is one of the most respected reporters period, and Ronan Farrow, who has certainly proven himself, really fall for a pure “smear”? Is that really how the White House thinks these stories are put to bed?
I was prepared to believe that Dr. Ford had a much different memory of the events at that party than Judge Kavanaugh. I’m not prepared to believe she made the whole thing up. This will destroy her life as she has known it. Kavanaugh will be a judge, or he will be a justice. She will be a target either way. She’s the one I’m worried about.
It was back in 1991 when then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden called me to discuss an op-ed I’d written about how the committee should treat Anita Hill. “Whatever you do,” I said, I wrote, I beseeched, “don’t beat up the victim.” He didn’t. Others did. It was a horror show. I only hope it will not be repeated. But by turning this into a contest of truth or lie, Judge Kavanaugh and his White House handlers have put the tinder in place for the fires to come.
Susan Estrich is a columnist, commentator and law and political science professor at USC.