cover image

Illustration by Emma Kay Tocci

The Dangerous Implications of the Kavanaugh Hearings

Kavanaugh’s nomination shows a reversion to the mean after the temporary progress signaled by the #MeToo movement.

Oct 14, 2018

Even before Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault, one could anticipate the threat he would pose to civil liberties as a Supreme Court Justice in the United States. Kavanaugh has long been seen as a threat to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that affirmed a federal right to abortion. Moreover, Kavanaugh’s judgements in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit revealed him as a Justice who was often skeptical of environmental legislation and gun control. Unlike his predecessor Anthony Kennedy, Kavanaugh is not considered a moderate Republican, possessing one of the most conservative records in the D.C. Circuit.
The need for advocacy in the United States has grown exponentially with Kavanaugh’s nomination. U.S. Americans who believe in the right to abortion, environmental regulations and gun control will now have to fight harder for their beliefs to be affirmed.
The main problem with Kavanaugh’s confirmation, however, will always be the allegations of sexual assault by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, which sparked one of the most contentious confirmation hearings in United States Supreme Court history.
The hearings displayed a powerful contrast. On one hand, Dr. Ford was incredibly calm and collected, while simultaneously being emotionally compelling. On the other hand, Kavanaugh was angry, belligerent and partisan. His [exchange](( with Senator Amy Klobuchar was downright rude. Ultimately, the Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice.
In a commencement speech at Morehouse College, former President Barack Obama said that “as an African American you have to work twice as hard as everyone else if you want to get by.” The Kavanaugh hearings illustrated a similar principle: female victims could be twice as convincing as the accused and still be disbelieved.
Throughout the confirmation process, Republican lawmakers made very little effort to find the truth. From the very beginning, Republicans resisted an FBI investigation, only to relent when Jeff Flake — a member of their own party — threatened to vote against Kavanaugh without one. Nonetheless, the investigation was a diluted one, as the Bureau did not contact several witnesses.
Certain Republicans, such as Lindsey Graham, were more concerned about the so-called damage done to Kavanaugh’s reputation than the trauma experienced by Dr. Ford. Even more depressingly, several lawmakers attempted to discredit Dr. Ford with a mix of absurd conspiracy theories and flawed logic. Foremost was President Trump himself, who mocked Dr. Ford’s testimony in a manner that was befitting of a high school bully.
It is easy to view the Kavanaugh hearings as an issue that pertains only to the U.S. But this limited perspective ignores the impact that U.S. politics have on the rest of the world. This was certainly true for the #MeToo movement – which began in Hollywood and became an international phenomenon.
This time the U.S. has projected a different signal. It has shown that its leaders do not treat instances of sexual assault as serious issues, that victims are not to be believed and that their claims need not be comprehensively investigated. It has shown that alleged sexual assailants should not be held accountable, but rather apologized to.
These attitudes in the U.S. political sphere will only embolden sexual predators around the world. It sets of precendent of governments ignoring accusations of sexual harassment against a minister — as happened recently in India. It encourages the use of rape jokes, as was seen by the front-runner in Brazil’s presidential election.
Yet none of this is new. Unlike much of the Trump era, nothing in Kavanaugh’s confirmation was unprecedented. If anything, it is a reversion to the mean after the temporary progress signaled by the #MeToo movement. In this sense, the Republican party has reaffirmed a very old truth: men in power can get away with anything.
For those of us who believe that this is not acceptable, raising our voice is essential. The most important step is to create an environment where survivors of sexual misconduct feel comfortable to speak out against their perpetrators. This may require working to construct new social standards, throwing out unsympathetic politicians and setting up more stringent legal frameworks for sexual harassment.
It is the least that we can do to honor the bravery displayed by Dr. Ford.
Abhyudaya Tyagi is a contributing writer. Email him at
gazelle logo