What about us? The American people need a Supreme Court Justice we can trust (and respect).
For the last week or more since the allegations of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh were made public, the national discourse has focused rightly on the needs of his accusers, who deserve to be heard; on the needs of the Judge, who deserves to defend himself; on the needs of Senators, who have terribly mismanaged this process; and on the needs of the President, who continues to exemplify the failures of leadership. Much to my surprise and relief, we have also used this moment to focus on the needs of survivors, who need to know their accusations will be taken seriously, and inadvertently on perpetrators, who need to know that they will be held accountable for their behavior (at any age, 17–81), whether in a criminal trial, civil proceeding or just professionally. Nevertheless, in all of this, I am starting to wonder: where do Americans at large factor into this conversation? What do we need?
Setting aside the interests of the parties and the Parties, this American believes the collective we need an immediate halt to this circus of a confirmation process and a thorough FBI investigation into Judge Kavanaugh, to include the recent allegations made against him.
There are many reasons to be concerned about Judge Kavanaugh becoming Justice Kavanaugh, not the least of which is his record of hostility to individual rights, reproductive rights, civil rights, and worker protections. His appointment would be a blow to women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ persons, persons with disabilities, and workers. But that’s an assessment of his ideology, upon which progressives and conservatives may disagree. The latest concerns are about his personal character, concerns which transcend ideology and should be troubling to everyone.
This may at first seem unfair to some, especially in the context of never-ending Washington partisanship. And others, including many in the defense bar and racial justice advocates, may be concerned about the potential consequences of the “believe” narrative that has emerged in the wake of the #metoo movement. I get that. We can talk about that. We should talk about that. But no matter your political stripe, the Supreme Court of the United States is the highest Court in the land and one of the most consequential Courts in the World. The men and women sitting on the Court have lifetime appointments and should be the best of what our nation has to offer. The American people aren’t owed perfection, but we are owed people we can trust and respect.
At this point, the American people — and in particular women and girls — couldn’t trust Judge Kavanaugh to offer them “equal justice under law,” to be a fair arbiter of the women’s rights issues that will inevitably come before the Supreme Court during his tenure, especially if those issues deal with sexual assault or workplace discrimination (including harassment). And he certainly wouldn’t have our respect.
The allegations made against Judge Kavanaugh by Dr. Ford are credible and, even as the facts unfold, the new allegations by Ms. Deborah Ramirez are concerning. If true, these allegations should be a disqualifier alone, no matter how much time has passed, but when you couple them with his current vehement denials, they are certainly one. As nominations go, the window has closed for apologies, forgiveness, and lessons-learned. There are also lingering questions about what he knew or didn’t know about Judge Kozinsky’s sexually harassing, abhorrent behavior and whether he was truthful in his answers thus far. Moreover, there are new questions about whether there is any credence to the notion that he judged women clerks on the basis of their appearance.
It is not clear that an investigation will fully resolve these concerns, which is why some are recommending the President consider withdrawing his name. But, at the very least, there should be an inquiry by a disinterested party, the results of which can be factored into each Senator’s decision about this judge.
To their credit, Dr. Ford and Ms. Ramirez have called for such an investigation. That Judge Kavanaugh has not expressly joined them is surprising and not to his credit. If not for himself and his family, he should do so for the dignity of the Court he wishes to join and for the American people he wishes to continue serving.
We need Justices on the Supreme Court we can believe in. At this moment, Judge Kavanaugh does not meet that standard and his confirmation process should be halted until he does. Because, in the end, it is not really about him or any one person, it is about the collective us and what we need.
Joi Chaney is the Director of Equal Pay Today, a campaign to close the gender wage gap. Equal Pay Today is a project of Equal Rights Advocates, where Joi serves as Senior Policy Counsel. Joi is also the Principal of J.O.I. Strategies, where she occasionally takes on consulting projects that advance justice, opportunity and inclusion for women and people of color. Joi is a graduate of Howard University and Harvard Law School. She lives in Washington, DC with her family, but is from Orlando, FL. The opinions include here are her own.