Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the supreme court was preceded by protests, strikes, and outrage in response to multiple sexual assaults claims against him. Writing for Rebel, Rachel Cohen takes a look back at Kavanaugh’s record before his nomination, the outburst of struggle across the states, and the role of the Trump administration.
Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the US Supreme Court seemed certain from the moment President Trump announced his nomination. His curriculum vitae boasted a long list of career accomplishments the current Republican majority guns for: trampling environmental protections, opposing Obamacare, denying abortion care to migrant youth, and justifying the disappearance, detention, and denial of basic civil liberties to Muslims in service of the War on Terror.
Communities threatened by Kavanaugh’s reactionary agenda vocally protested throughout his initial confirmation hearings. Yet despite his entire record to the contrary, Kavanaugh maintained a mantra of commitment to impartial interpretation of the Constitution. The gap between reality and the fiction of a “neutral” court ruling over a deeply divided and unequal society was already glaring.
Then Kavanaugh’s ascension to a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the land collided with the power of #MeToo. The viral hashtag encouraging sexual assault survivors to tell their stories and name their attackers has brought down dozens of CEOs and celebrities in the last year. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford had sent a confidential letter to judiciary committee member Senator Diane Feinstein alleging that Brett Kavanaugh had attacked and attempted to rape her in the 1980s, when they were both teenagers.
The letter’s existence was mysteriously leaked to the press, and reporters camped out at her home and workplace. Ford faced down considerable, legitimate fears to come forward and tell the story in her own words. In the week that followed, two more women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, came forward to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, and thousands of survivors and supporters offered Ford their solidarity.
At the same time, as she told the judiciary committee during a hearing televised nationwide, “My family and I have been the target of constant harassment and death threats. I have been called the most vile and hateful names imaginable. These messages, while far fewer than the expressions of support, have been terrifying to receive and have rocked me to my core.”
Response to Senate Hearings
Republican lawmakers effectively put Blasey Ford on trial, subjecting her to questioning by a prosecutor who searched for inconsistencies in her story or a shred of evidence of funding or encouragement she’d received from Democrats. She delivered a patient, composed, collegial presence throughout. For their part, Democrats thanked Ford for her bravery but also demanded an FBI investigation, despite the already compelling credibility of her narrative.
Kavanaugh returned to Senate hearings in a belligerent mood, asserting his unquestionable qualifications as a beer-loving, female friend-having Yale graduate.
Survivors felt their own experiences echoed in Dr. Ford’s ordeal. Protesters gathered outside the hearings and two organisers, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, even chased Jeff Flake, considered a potential swing vote in the Senate, onto an elevator. “Look me in the eye,” they demanded. Gallagher told him, “I was sexually assaulted, and nobody believed me . . . You’re telling all women that they don’t matter.”
Their actions were captured on national news, and in the hours that followed, Flake called on fellow Republicans to reopen the FBI’s background check of Kavanaugh. Across the country, people took to the streets opposing Kavanaugh. In New York, thousands marched in a quickly-organised demonstration ending outside the Yale club where alumni shut their elegant drapery in avoidance of the message that their elite grooming didn’t entitle them to impunity.
On October 4, organisers of the Women’s March joined the International Women’s Strike and a variety of socialist organisations and to coordinate a national day of action, involving student walkouts, public speak-outs, and thousands-strong protest outside the Supreme Court. Chants and speeches insisted that survivors who come forward deserve to be taken seriously and believed when the preponderance of evidence is with them, not treated as suspects themselves or shamed without evidence as liars or worse.
Outburst of Struggle
Ford’s experience dramatically demonstrates the fact survivors struggle to come forward. She had nothing to gain for herself personally, and instead has been uprooted along with her family, forced to leave home and move around under security due to the volume of serious threats she’s received. Trump questioned early on why she hadn’t reported Kavanaugh as a teenager prompting a deluge of public responses. #whyididntreport stories mirrored the #metoo testimonies that flooded social media a year ago, capturing vividly why sexual assault remains one of the most under-reported crimes in the United States and beyond.
Demonstrations across the country amplified not only personal experiences but widespread political outrage. Chants and speeches linked support for Ford with support for Anita Hill, who 27 years earlier testified with grace before a Senate Judiciary Committee stacked against her to describe sexual harassment by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas. He too was appointed after vilifying Hill as a liar.
This outburst of struggle interrupted months of quiet as the majority of Americans who disapprove of the Trump administration and it’s many attacks on vulnerable communities wrestled with frustration and even despair.
They also built on an accumulation of struggles that have become national and international reference points, from 2011’s Slutwalk protest in Toronto against institutional victim-blaming that spread rapidly to cities across the US and around the world to fights to bring former IMF head Dominic Strauss-Kahn, town hero football players in Steubenville, Ohio, and a successful member of the Stanford University swim team to account for accusations of sexual assault and rape.
More recently, a grand jury investigation reported that in the state of Pennsylvania alone, the Catholic Church had silenced 1,000 victims of sexual abuse by 300 priests over the course of 70 years. More states are now investigating their own diocese and considering criminal charges. And workers organising with the Fight for 15 campaign for a raise in the minimum wage have taken up widespread claims of workplace sexual harassment. Two weeks before Kavanaugh’s second Senate hearing, they gathered in 10 cities to protest harassment at McDonalds, experienced by one of every two employees.
In West Virginia, survivors occupied the office of Democrat Joe Manchin to demand he oppose Kavanaugh’s appointment. They were led in part by teachers who struck last spring despite the passivity of their own union against some of the nation’s lowest wages, and won a raise for all state employees.
The Role of Trump and the Establishment
But this wasn’t enough to stop the appointment of Kavanaugh. A narrowly focused FBI investigation that failed even to interview Kavanaugh, Ford, or other potential witnesses proved “inconclusive.” While it was underway, Trump took to the stage at a rally in Mississippi and mocked Dr. Blasey Ford for not remembering every moment leading up to and following her alleged assault. His supporters wildly applauded.
He even portrayed himself a victim of an imaginary proliferation of false sexual misconduct allegations. Trump has not only been accused of sexual assault and harassment by numerous women, he was also caught in a 2005 audio recording bragging about regularly assaulting women claiming “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the p****. You can do anything.”
But in Mississippi he lamented the changed climate in which men are supposedly unfairly under fire. He complained that men are “guilty until proven innocent.”
Of course he failed to reflect on his own public vilification without due process of five young Black men rounded up after a brutal rape in Central Park in 1989. The Central Park 5 were later exonerated but at the time, Trump joined a vicious chorus against them, taking out a full page ad in the New York Times calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty.
Republicans like Trump and Democrats like Manchin are hypocrites when it comes to sexual violence. They like to paint all rapists as men of colour and then demonise survivors if they allege their attackers were rich and white. These racist and sexist double-standards shield a long and bitter history of the United States in which native American genocide, slavery, Jim Crow segregation and neoliberalism have been enforced in part by sexual violence against oppressed women, men, trans, and gender-nonconforming people designed to trample us and our communities with shame and fear.
So it wasn’t just left to fellow rich white men to draw on this long and painful legacy and appoint a credibly accused rapist to rule over the our reproductive and civil rights. In the end, it was Republican Senator Susan Collins who subjected the Senate and the nation to a 45-minute defense of Kavanaugh before she cast a decisive vote in his confirmation. In it, she not only white-washed Kavanaugh’s record of ruling in the interests of big business but also claimed that while Ford seemed sincere in her suffering, she simply can’t be taken at her own word and must have been duped by Democrats. She stood by the establishment and against fellow women crying for help in a system stacked against them. She reinforced everything they are crying out against.
Kavanaugh joins a Supreme Court which will remain heavily stacked against the rights of the oppressed and the environment. But a likewise conservative court, comprising four justices appointed by disgraced Republican president Richard Nixon, was compelled by mass organising and outrage to legalise abortion in the Roe v. Wade decision. Kavanaugh’s ascension has stirred a groundswell of anger and thirst for justice that must be organised and mobilised to defend and expand our rights.