Patience, not partisanship, required in Kavanaugh hearings


(Illustration by Eli Savage | Staff Illustrator)

By Hayden Timmins, Staff Columnist

Supreme Court confirmation hearings normally delve into the nominee’s legal opinions — but Thursday’s focused solely on an alleged sexual assault. The Senate Judiciary Committee subjected Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, to a grueling series of questions regarding an assault that allegedly took place at a high school party in 1982.

But the questions Ford faced were far less probing than Kavanaugh’s. From the start, Democratic senators lauded Ford’s bravery in coming forward to face the man who allegedly sexually assaulted her. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Kamala Harris and Richard Durbin said they believed Ford before Kavanaugh even began his testimony, even though it was clear before the hearing began that much of the evidence was poorly substantiated.

And while Kavanaugh faced intense questioning from Democrats, many Republicans, including the highly vocal Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., expressed empathy for Kavanaugh and his family before hearing either side’s testimony — all of which points to a hyper-partisan battle that hasn’t yet allowed room for a patient inquiry of the facts.

Ford has three pieces of evidence in her favor — none of which are strong enough to prove her testimony. The first is four statements from Ford’s friends and family saying she told them about the assault. Although these statements prove Ford didn’t throw the accusation together on a whim, they’re not corroborations, since they only detail Ford speaking about the assault 30 years after it allegedly happened.

The second is her polygraph test — but polygraphs are notoriously unreliable. In fact, polygraph test results are inadmissible in court because they only measure a person’s physiological changes during the exam, not the accuracy of the claims. Many outside factors can affect the results of the test — even just simple, physical movements.

Ford adamantly states she is “100 percent” certain that it was Kavanaugh who sexually assaulted her at the party — but several studies suggest that victim and eyewitness testimony alone is not enough evidence to support a claim.

The third piece of evidence in Ford’s favor is Kavanaugh’s July 1 calendar entry saying he met with Mark Judge, Tom Caine, Patrick Smyth, Bernie McCarthy and Chris Garrett at Timothy Gaudette’s house for “skis” — which Democrats believe refers to the alleged party Ford and Kavanaugh attended. But in Ford’s testimony, she claimed there were four boys and two girls at the party, not six boys — it’s entirely possible that Kavanaugh was at a party that night, but a completely different one.

And the three witnesses Ford named — Judge, Smyth and Leland Keyser — stated under penalty of perjury that they have no memory of the party or the alleged assault.

But instead of digging into Ford’s inconsistencies, Whitehouse reprimanded Kavanaugh over using the word “boofed” in his high school yearbook, a word that refers to flatulence. Other senators insisted Kavanaugh’s alleged patterns of binge drinking as a teenager are evidence in Ford’s favor — but to make the leap from immaturity or binge drinking to verifiable sexual assault before more evidence is available is risky.

“I liked beer,” Kavanaugh said during the testimony. “But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out, and I never sexually assaulted anyone.”

The topic of binge drinking is one of Kavanaugh’s inconsistencies. On multiple occasions he has denied drinking to the point of blacking out — but a former classmate at Yale publicly declared he believed Kavanaugh to be lying, based on years of friendship and observation of Kavanaugh’s drinking habits, although he provides no proof of his statements.

None of the evidence before the floor has yet been conclusive — and that’s not just in public opinion. Rachel Mitchell, the highly experienced sex crimes prosecutor who interviewed Ford during the hearing, said there simply wasn’t enough evidence yet.

“A ‘he said, she said’ case is incredibly difficult to prove. But this case is even weaker than that,” Mitchell said in a memo after the hearing. “I do not think a reasonable prosecutor would bring this case based on the evidence before the committee.”

In hindsight, the hearings were a waste of time. Ford had very little evidence for her claims before the hearing, and almost no additional evidence was found during the hearing — Kavanaugh still claims his innocence, and no evidence he presented proved his innocence. Senators just used it as an opportunity to argue their respective party’s opinion about the two.

“Those who make allegations always deserve to be heard. At the same time, the person who is subject to the allegations also deserves to be heard,” Kavanaugh said. “Due process means listening to both sides.”

Our country’s law is very clear — all people are innocent until proven guilty, a standard that should hold in both the court of law and the court of public opinion. If we immediately give credence to unsubstantiated claims, there will be no civility left to uphold our politics or our society.

Hayden writes primarily about politics. Write to Hayden at [email protected]