We Didn't Stop Clarence Thomas — But We Have A Chance To Stop Brett Kavanaugh

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
When he was nominated to the Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh made a concerted effort to make us know that he’s good to women. Of course, considering his prior statements and judicial decisions, we knew this was bullshit. Now we’re watching a scene that played out almost 30 years ago in 1991 — a conservative Supreme Court nominee accused of sexual misconduct — come back once again into the fold. But this time, we’re going to stop it.
Last week it came to light that Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault and attempted rape, which allegedly took place when he was in high school. The details are difficult to digest, with survivor Christine Blasey Ford saying that Kavanaugh and a friend allegedly trapped her in a room while the now-Supreme Court nominee groped her on a bed, covered her mouth while she screamed, and tried to take off the bathing suit she was wearing. She recalled that she was only able to flee after a friend jumped on top of her and Kavanaugh, allowing her to escape. Kavanaugh, for his part, denied the allegations.
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In 1991, the Senate faced a similar situation. Law professor Anita Hill publicly came forward and accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which was entirely filled with white men at the time, by all accounts treated Hill horrifically through her testimony (including future Vice President Joe Biden asking where, physically, Thomas’ sexual harassment had occurred), and Thomas was later given the go-ahead by the committee and confirmed by the Senate.
That was an injustice that we are still feeling today — but this time around, things can be different.
Fast-forwarding to present day, we’re in a different world. The #MeToo movement has gathered steam over the past year, and Democrats in particular have made strides by purging people from the party accused of sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault from its ranks; these efforts have made it easier for Democratic senators and supporters alike to stand by Ford. On the flip side, reactions (and excuses) haven’t changed too much from Republicans. Sure, GOP Senator Jeff Flake came out and said that Ford should be heard, as did Kellyanne Conway. But that didn’t stop many Republicans from having all sorts of bogus — and downright insulting — excuses for why they should dismiss Ford’s claims.
Some are going with the old-fashioned “youthful indiscretions” excuse — as if sexually assaulting someone in high school means it “doesn’t count” or doesn’t impact a survivor for the rest of that person’s life. Why should Kavanaugh get to move on and become a Supreme Court Justice? Some Republicans are pretending that it’s not the allegations but the supposed “timing” of the allegations that’s giving them pause despite Ford coming forward as soon as Kavanaugh’s name was floated — as if there’s a wrong time to bring forth previous sexual assault accusations when that person is about to receive a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the nation. And others are saying this is just a Democratic scheme to stall the nomination — as if Democrats haven’t also taken down many of their own during #MeToo’s rise.
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The testimony was particularly damning giving that Ford provided notes from a 2012 therapy session where she discussed the incident and later passed an FBI polygraph test in early August pertaining to the alleged assault. For all the talk from the GOP about taking allegations seriously if they come with evidence, the party is sputtering when a “credible” — by their own benchmarks — survivor comes forward. And now, if Kavanaugh is confirmed, that’d mean over one-fifth of the justices sitting on the bench of the highest court in the land have been accused of sexual misconduct — in addition to the fact that Kavanaugh was nominated to the court by a president who’s been accused of sexual harassment and assault by almost two dozen women.
This isn’t the time, however, to give up hope. In the midst of the mountain of shit we’re slogging through with the Kavanaugh nomination and this political era at large, there’s a bright spot: Women have the ability to change the course of politics and this country in the next 50 days.
It’s hard not to see the parallels between what we’re seeing now and what galvanized after Anita Hill’s brave testimony in 1991. The following year, 1992, was dubbed the “Year of the Woman” because of the record number of women elected to Congress, particularly female senators who watched Hill’s hearings, saw lack of female representation in the chamber, and decided to run. That year, 106 women received House party nominations, as did 11 women in the Senate, with 24 of those women getting elected in the House and four of them making their way to victory in the Senate.
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But if everyone thought 1992 was a banner year for women’s equality, folks are about to be blown away by what’s going to occur on November 6. By all accounts, there are record numbers of women — by and large Democratic women — running for office, including in Congress, where 234 women won their party’s nomination for House seats and 22 women did the same in the Senate. Even more incredibly, being a female congressional candidate this cycle holds a statistical advantage for Democratic women in the field. Sixteen women won their party’s nomination for governor and are onto the general. At least nine states could reach gender parity in their legislatures this fall, and some estimates are showing that women’s representation in state legislatures could skyrocket from 23% to 38% in this single election cycle. And who’s lifting these women up? None other than their fellow women. In fact, 70% of grassroots resistance-oriented groups are comprised of women, and often their leadership is nearly or entirely women as well.
So, what do we take away having watched this very similar series of events unfold more than two and a half decades ago? Well, I know one thing we can do in 50 days. We vote our damn asses off. After all, when President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court eight months before the 2016 election, didn’t Republican Senate Majority Leader say that it was too close to an election to consider even giving Garland a hearing? If eight months was a short period of time, 50 days is nothing, especially since we’re considering a nominee accused of sexual assault.
Make no mistake: 1992 was a critical year for women. But 2018 is about to be the year for women in this generation — the one that can help launch us ourselves into the stratosphere. And with the hindsight we have from 1992, we know we can’t go back from here.
Lily Herman is a contributing editor at Refinery29 and the founder of political volunteer network Get Her Elected. Follow her on Twitter. The views expressed are her own.
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