The Republicans are attempting to fast-track Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court by holding a committee vote as early as Friday, just one day after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is slated to testify after coming forward with allegations that Kavanaugh assaulted her at a house party in the D.C. suburbs when they were teenagers. It's unclear whether any of his other accusers will testify. And while Democrats and advocates are calling for the FBI to reopen his background check investigation, whether or not that will happen is murky at best.
Kavanaugh's confirmation and reputation hang in the balance, dependent on two potentially defecting Republicans — kind of like the fate of women in this country. While no one really knows what comes next, everyone can agree that this moment is painful.
If Kavanaugh does end up skating through, it could change the conversation around sexual assault, turning back the clock on the progress we've only recently made, Carol Robles-Román, an attorney and women's rights leader with extensive experience in judicial selection and vetting, as well as the co-president and CEO of the ERA Coalition and the Fund for Women's Equality, tells Refinery29.
"As far as we have gotten with the Me Too movement and Time's Up to turn the tide, this is the polar opposite pushing in the other direction," she says. "That's what his confirmation would represent."
Because of Dr. Ford and Deborah Ramirez, survivors of sexual assault have been newly emboldened to speak out. After women began tweeting the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag last Friday, Padma Lakshmi published an op-ed in the New York Times in which she shared that a man she was dating had raped her 32 years ago when she was 16 years old.
As far as we have gotten with the Me Too movement and Time's Up to turn the tide, this is the polar opposite pushing in the other direction. That's what his confirmation would represent.
Carol Robles-Román, attorney and women's rights leader
Robles-Román says Dr. Ford's allegations have helped usher in a new wave of the Me Too movement. "That's the permission Dr. Ford is giving all of us," she says. "At first Me Too was, 'Hashtag it happened to me.' Now it's, 'This is the guy who did it.' Now we have women taking a deep breath and saying, 'Maybe there's no criminal sanction, but I just want people to know that this happened.'"
At the same time, nobody owes the world their assault stories and many have had to shut off the news in order to keep themselves from reliving past trauma. Seeing it play out again and again can be a nightmare. "What the GOP doesn’t care to understand is how deeply the Kavanaugh nomination is retraumatizing a nation of survivors," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Tuesday night, after spending the evening with constituents, many of whom were trans women of colour, who told her about their experiences with assault and violence.
The conversation around Kavanaugh's confirmation is about as tense and partisan as can be. Whether or not one believes Dr. Ford is a question to which people have generally responded along party lines; Democrats overwhelmingly say they believe her while Republicans don't.
Republicans are doing everything to make this look like a politically motivated smear, despite the fact that no one publicly documents their sexual assault for fun or fame, and very few sexual assault accusations end up false. Still, around 30% of voters believe Brett Kavanaugh's denials over Dr. Ford's account of attempted rape, and 34% of others are undecided (36% say they believe Dr. Ford).
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell has called the women's allegations a "shameless smear campaign" and Sen. Lindsey Graham said, "I'll listen to the lady, but we're going to bring this to a close." Then there are those who seem to think that trying to rape girls or waving your penis in their faces when drunk is just a rite of passage all young men go through.
Republicans will rightly point out that behavior toward Ashley Kavanaugh, the nominee's wife, has also been unacceptable; she says she has received death threats and obscenities, which continues the longstanding tradition of forcing women to be responsible for their partners' actions.
Robles-Román says that if Kavanaugh gets confirmed — now that we'll have two alleged sexual abusers sitting on the Supreme Court, the first being Clarence Thomas — all the "boys will be boys" comments will become an even more unavoidable part of the conversation in America.
"That means that's going to be the term of the day, like 'locker-room talk,'" she says, referring to how Donald Trump excused his comments in 2016. "'Boys will be boys' — I can just hear that. Women will hear that in college Title IX offices." That conversation has the ability to drive policy, she says.
Will all of this make a difference at the midterms? Absolutely, says Robles-Román. "A lot of women are tired of the status quo, and there may be some Republican backlash, too." Seeing the callousness with which the GOP has handled Kavanaugh's accusers has already helped turn out voters for progressive candidates in primary races, she says. With only six weeks away from the November US elections, many Republican candidates in vulnerable suburban districts have seen voters throw up their hands at the chaos coming out of D.C., reports NBC News.
"Republicans running in these suburban districts desperately need a conversation about the economy and how things are going, but they are getting everything but that," a Republican strategist working on midterm races told NBC News. "The conversation instead is about the Mueller [probe] and other complications at the White House and now [Kavanaugh]. That’s taking all the attention away from the economy."
It's very unlikely for a Supreme Court justice to be removed unless they commit an offense while they are actually in office, or an offense from their past surfaces that is "firm and provable," says Robles-Román. Otherwise, they serve for life unless they resign, retire, or are impeached and convicted by Congress. Only one Supreme Court justice, in 1804, has ever been impeached, but he was acquitted.
That's why this fight is so important and we must choose wisely, Robles-Román says. "The idea of somebody serving on the Supreme Court that is accused of sexual harassment and who belongs to the world of 'boys will be boys,' it makes them suspect as to how they will handle certain cases," she says. "Discrimination cases, cases dealing with women's rights, the Equal Rights Amendment if the issue eventually reaches the Supreme Court. You want somebody who is ethical and moral, and part of that is respecting the equal rights of women. 'Boys will be boys' is not part of the growing-up process."
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).