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Can There Be Justice? Can There Be Healing?

October 1, 2018

Senator Jeff Flake is right: Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation of sexual assault against Brett Kananaugh, and his angry denial, are tearing our nation apart. This is nothing less than a national tragedy in the making, giving us a disturbing glimpse into America’s gashed and infected soul at this point in time.

I have read some of the newspaper accounts and watched snippets of the hearings on network TV news. Otherwise, I have not followed this story closely. I have, to some degree, diverted my eyes from this train wreck, not wishing to see the carnage. But we must look–not to stir up further animosity and accusations, but to feel our way toward some kind of healing.

When President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, he looked like a good nominee to me. Whether his judicial philosophy aligns with mine or not is beside the point. As Barack Obama used to say, elections have consequences; Trump won, and it is his constitutional duty to appoint the next member of the Supreme Court. The Senate’s job is to ensure that the nominee is qualified. From what I’ve read, Kavanaugh is a highly regarded jurist, and his initial responses to questions in the Senate hearings were reasonable.

I felt that the delaying tactics of the Democratic senators, and the frequent outbursts by protesters during the hearing, were unseemly and out of place. Are Democratic leaders still angry at the Republican refusal to hold hearings on Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court? Yes. Justifiably so in my opinion. But payback is neither ethical nor helpful but only further entrenches our national dysfunction. So my feeling was: let’s get on with it.

But then came Ford’s accusation. The timing was more than suspicious–almost certainly another designed delaying tactic by the Democrats. But that doesn’t change the fact that the accusation is real and credible and has existed in a therapist’s notes since 2012. The Republicans can rage all they want about the timing, but the accusation itself must be taken seriously.

At first, the Republicans acted like they would take it seriously. They would give Ford the opportunity to testify. But I was troubled that the Republicans were unwilling to let the FBI investigate her claim. It seemed to me the Republicans were only pretending to take her seriously. They would hear her, decide it was a he-said-she-said conundrum, and then proceed with a vote to confirm Kavanaugh. It was all a forgone conclusion, regardless of what she might say.

But Ford’s testimony turned out to be more disturbing and convincing than expected–and the whole nation saw it. I am aware that many people–intelligent and credible people–sometimes have false memories. It is also true that eye witness testimony is wrong a surprising amount of the time. But Ford wasn’t testifying about a stranger assaulting her (in which case misidentification might happen more easily), but about someone she knew. She also named another person (Mark Judge) whom she says was in the room when it happened (and whom she says blanched when approached by her on a following day).

Her story, with its details, is highly realistic and convincing, describing an assault that traumatized her and led to therapy. She is also a person of credible character. There’s just one problem: so far there is no corroboration for her story. No one else remembers this party where the alleged assault happened. On the other hand, Mark Judge’s written denial is noticeably weak: he doesn’t say it didn’t happen; he only says he doesn’t remember it happening. One wonders whether Kavanaugh and Judge were so drunk (Ford says they were “stumbling drunk”) that they have no memory (or an impaired memory) of this alleged event. It also doesn’t help that others have accused Kavanaugh of being not infrequently drunk and inappropriate during his youth.

In light of Ford’s searing account, some Republican senators deflected by angrily turning attention to the Democrats’ stall tactics. But that’s not the issue. The issue is Ford’s accusation. Kavanaugh also sought to deflect from Ford’s testimony by angrily denouncing a supposed conspiracy headed by the Clintons. Whether Kavanuagh’s conspiracy theory holds any water or not (I thought it was odd), he is missing the point. His confirmation is in question not because of Democratic stall tactics or manufactured accusations, but because of a disturbing and credible accusation brought against him by a woman who shared this accusation with others years ago. Kavanaugh admitted he did not even watch Ford’s testimony prior to his own anger-filled attack on the Democrats. He, in effect, ignored her and did not take her seriously enough to listen to her before making his response.

Kavanaugh’s intemperate and defensive response, ignoring Ford and launching a partisan attack, greatly reduced my esteem for him. Even if he did not commit this alleged assault (an assault which he strongly denies he had any involvement in), I now seriously question whether he is qualified to be a fair and impartial Supreme Court justice.

Finally, after being tearfully confronted by two women, Senator Jeff Flake, alone among the Republicans, crossed the aisle and decided he had to take Ford seriously, asking for a one-week FBI investigation into credible accusations. Whether that investigation will be long enough or broad enough is now subject to debate, but the move itself was momentous and done for the sake of justice and healing. Thank you, Senator Flake.

I have no idea what will come out of that investigation, or whether Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed by the Senate. Whatever happens, our national soul and the fabric of our society will need long and intensive healing. As a citizen of this nation, and as a Christian who believes it is our task to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7), I will seek the following:

  • Justice over partisanship. Ultimately, I am neither for nor against Democrats or Republicans; I am for honesty, integrity, fair play, and doing what is right for the common good, not the good of one party. And I am for protecting the vulnerable.
  • Forgiveness over retribution. If Brett Kavanaugh committed this alleged assault, I can forgive him if he admits it and apologizes and makes amends. I do not believe the indiscretions–even criminal acts–of our youth should shut the door on our potential rehabilitation and redemption. I believe our society, recently seared by the revelations of sexual abuse committed on an unimaginable scale by men in power, is not yet able to balance justice and mercy. Until we find that proper integration, we will not heal.

 

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2 Comments
  1. Bob Eshleman permalink

    A very well written and thought out analysis of this distasteful matter

  2. Randall Bowman permalink

    Ryan:
    An important backdrop to this issue is the hyper-partisanship that has developed over the past 20-30 years.
    In 1985, Anton Scalia was approved 96-0 in his confirmation hearing.
    In 1988, Justice Kennedy also garnered broad bipartisan support.
    Then in 1991, Justice Thomas faced the Anita Hill accusations and support from Republicans was still strong but weak from the Democrats.
    Ginsburg (1993) and Breyer (1994) both garnered pretty broad bipartisan support.
    In 2000, the Supreme Court decided (5-4 along partisan lines) to halt the Florida recount that was occurring and presented the presidency to Bush.
    Despite that, Roberts received pretty broad support (nearly 80 votes).
    Alito in 2006 was a somewhat partisan choice by George W Bush and won confirmation more narrowly. Very few Democrats supported his nomination.
    Since then, Sotomayor (2009), Kagan (2010) and Gorsuch (2017) were approved narrowly along party lines.
    Of course, McConnell famously said soon after Obama was elected that he would do everything in his power to make Obama a one term president (and notably didn’t say that they should look for common ground and try to do what was best for the country, etc) and held up a very qualified moderate choice to the Supreme Court (Garland) for almost a year during the last year of Obama’s term.
    Hyperpartisonship has very clear sign posts along the way, both Democrat and Republican.
    It will be a long road back to bipartisanship but I would propose several necessary ways to get there:
    1) Go back to the requirement that a 60 vote threshold needs achieved. That would foster the appointment of more moderate judges.
    2) Term limits for senators. They spend too much time fund raising for the next election and not enough time getting to know their fellow senators on a social basis in Washington. My father in law was in the Eisenhower white house and he recalls the day when Republican and Democratic lawmakers actually lived in Washington and they would see each other at their children’s soccer games, etc and got to know each other as real persons not just as a political opponent.
    3) The right and the left need to call out the fringe of their parties and distance themselves from the politics of extremism and hateful rhetoric. The right is particularly guilty of this currently but it can go either way.
    4) Women need to be believed when they make a claim against a powerful man.
    Clinton lied, Cosby lied, etc, etc. In the end the woman was telling the truth. Only a very mentally ill woman would put herself through the public torment and I am guessing they would be easily “outed”.
    The country would probably be best served if all men where kicked out of Washington and women ran the show for a while!
    RJBowman

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