When ‘Truth, Liberty and Justice’ Fails: Reflections on the Kavanaugh Hearing

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Image Credit: Ninian Reid/APTOPIX

On October 6th, almost a year after the #MeToo hashtag first started trending on Twitter, Brett Kavanaugh became an official justice of the US Supreme Court. Protests ensued. Angry Americans stormed the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington D.C. Some women cried, then wrote long Facebook posts urging their friends to keep voting, keep fighting, to continue to speak up. Others cried, then wrote long Facebook posts simply to say how tired they felt. Some women, typically those on the other side of the political spectrum, celebrated.

It’s no secret that the U.S., especially currently, is dramatically politically divided. As an American myself I can say that sometimes the two party system feels less like a form of government and more like rival sports teams — if you’re for one, you’re against the other. The big difference, of course, is that the New York Giants don’t slander minority groups and threaten nuclear war via social media platforms. Also, they use less fake tan.

The Kavanaugh confirmation hearing has been no different. On the one hand, Democrats believe Christine Ford, the university professor who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when the two were in high school. On the other hand, Republicans believe Judge Kavanaugh, who, naturally, denies the accusations. At best, they shrug it off as unsolvable, saying that it’s a case of he-said, she-said. At worst, Dr. Ford’s opponents cry wolf, accusing her of trying to sabotage Kavanaugh’s career and the entire Republican Party while she’s at it.

You may or may not believe Christine Ford’s allegations. Personally, I do, partially because statistics are in her favour. False sexual assault accusations are rare, only making up 2 – 8 percent of all reported sexual assaults, not including the fact that the majority of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported or unprosecuted. Not to mention many false reporters make up a stranger rather than accuse a real person, bringing the number of American men wrongly accused down to approximately 0.005% each year. Partially out of a sense of feminine solidarity, since in a misogynistic world where powerful men avoid consequences far too often, her story sounds familiar.

Mostly because I struggle to see why a woman would put herself through public scrutiny and outraged death threats for a system rigged against her, unless motivated by a sense of civic duty. Watching Ford, wide-eyed and controlling a waver in her voice, it’s difficult to doubt her. As Anita Hill and many others have shown before her, in cases of powerful man versus powerful woman, the man nearly always wins out.

However, regardless of whether or not you believe Ford’s allegations, one thing is obvious. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing was not about justice. Political power moves? Sure. Partisan loyalties? Of course. An honest pursuit of truth, transparency, and fairness? Not at all.

The defensiveness coming from Kavanaugh during the hearing seems like the response of a man who feels threatened. Granted, he is in a stressful position. Yet instead of an openness to the questioning, which would indicate that here is a man who wants the truth to be known, Kavanaugh reacts emotionally, tearing up and raising his voice during the testimony. The other Republican senators aren’t much better. It’s unclear how much of their indignation comes from a belief in Kavanaugh’s innocence, and how much is just self-interest, an attempt to showcase how loyal they are to the party line and vote in ‘their guy’ while they have the chance.

The Democrats aren’t without their own partisanship, either. Following the hearing, it seems that this is a case where everyone, save perhaps one or two wavering Republicans or ‘status quo’ Democrats, came in with their minds already made up. The questioning, the testimonies, the opening statements, are all formalities.

“Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing was not about justice. Political power moves? Sure. Partisan loyalties? Of course. An honest pursuit of truth, transparency, and fairness? Not at all.”

Making it worse, the eleven Republicans decided to bring in an independent prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, to question Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh. This is not the norm. While experienced prosecutors make sense in a court of law, arguing their cases to a judge and jury, in a congressional hearing the senators are all three; judge, jury and questioner. Letting Mitchell, who seemed bent on finding holes within Dr. Ford’s story, question the witnesses shows a lack of objectivity on their part.

The subsequent FBI investigation has not been much better. “Limited in scope,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray, the findings of the investigation have remained private. Several of Kavanaugh’s college and high school associates, trying to share information about Kavanaugh’s behaviour during the time they knew him, said they struggled to get the attention of the investigators. Dr. Ford’s lawyer felt compelled to write a letter to Director Wray, asking why the FBI had not reached out to the dozens of witnesses her team provided. Now arguably, during an investigation the onus is on the FBI to decide who to talk to. It’s possible that none of the people approaching the investigators really had any pertinent information  — but I doubt it. Instead, the investigation and it’s omissions seem like an attempt on the part of the White House to obscure the truth. We’ve seen this strategy before, recently with the FBI investigation into possible ties between Trump and Russia during the 2016 campaigns.

There are a few qualities that one hopes to see from a Supreme Court justice. After all, they hold a considerable amount of power, being able to overturn laws or condemn the actions of the president if either are deemed unconstitutional. And once appointed to the Supreme Court, the position is for life. So, you look for people with a sense of fairness, who can remain dignified under pressure. People who will work hard to uphold the Constitution and who will rule in favour of those who are treated unjustly.

When it comes down to it, the Supreme Court is supposed to represent American ideals at their best, justice and equality for all. Even if Kavanaugh is completely blameless, the lack of transparency regarding the FBI investigation, the witnesses calling the FBI’s credibility into question and the biased behaviour of both parties during the hearing indicates that there is not fair play here. And what does that say about a country, when one of its strongest pillars, it’s separation of political powers, starts to crumble? What does a Supreme Court with the power to check the president mean, if the court proves unwilling to do so?

Watching the Kavanaugh hearing unfold, I become painfully aware of how much our leaders hide from us. I realise that, despite the posturing, ‘truth, liberty and justice for all’ is not the message being upheld. Rather, it is power begetting power, individuals who prioritise maintaining the status quo over discovering clarity. Perhaps we will never be able to know exactly what happened between Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh in a house party bedroom when they were teenagers. But then, we haven’t really tried.