Culture

The Kavanaugh Hearings: Where To Start If You Haven’t Tuned In

Everything you need to know about Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, the sexual assault allegations, and its ties to Anita Hill.

By Emily Brooks

Culture

Everything you need to know about Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, the sexual assault allegations, and its ties to Anita Hill.

By Emily Brooks

If the word Kavanaugh sounds more like an hors d’oeuvre than a headline, the news storm surrounding Trump’s Supreme Court nominee may have gone straight over your head. This may be because you don’t care for US politics, or for you, Trump’s presidency resembles wrestling more than democratic leadership, but right now, if you’re a woman, there is every reason to tune in.

Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has always been a controversial figure for women. He is a conservative judge being picked to join a conservative-weighted Supreme Court, which could potentially put Roe V. Wade, the landmark ruling legalising abortion in the states, in jeopardy. But as Brett Kavanaugh was questioned in Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this month before his impending appointment to the highest court of the land, a woman, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist in Northern California, came forward to accuse him of sexually assaulting her in the ‘80s. They were teenagers, she claimed, at a gathering in suburban Washington. Since then, Kavanaugh’s bid for the Supreme Court has been in jeopardy. The New Yorker has published sexual misconduct allegations from a second woman, dated back to Kavanaugh’s time at Yale. And this Thursday, Ford will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee for all the world to see. So here’s what you need to know before the day arrives.

So, what are Ford’s allegations?

The accusations date back to the 1980s when Ford and Kavanaugh were in high school. The two were at a party where Ford alleges a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her down on a bed, groped her, and – when she tried to scream – placed a hand over her mouth. When they fell off the bed, Ford said she was able to escape. There was one other witness in the room, Mark Judge, who has since claimed he has no recollection of the event. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation and is willing to testify.

Many are claiming it suspicious that Ford would only come forward now, but she has tried to remain anonymous for a long time. She first came forward in July in a letter to Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein who sits on the committee. Senator Feinstein shared it with the F.B.I., which shared it with the White House, which shared it with the committee. Ford’s name began to circulate so she finally came forward publicly in an article with The Washington Post.

Who is Dr. Christine Blasey Ford?

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, 51, is a professor at Palo Alto University in California whose work – as a researcher and statistician – has been widely published in academic journals. As many Republicans dub Ford’s claim a cry for attention, evidence from a marriage counsellor shows Ford spoke about the assault years ago in counselling sessions with her husband. A record has been kept in the counsellor’s notes.

OK, what’s at stake?

There are two critical things at stake here. The first is Ford’s claims could ruin Kavanaugh’s bid for the Supreme Court. The senators on the committee will decide that. But even a delay in their approval of the nominee could hurt his chances to take the job, as the midterms are only weeks away. If Democrats do well at the midterms it could change the makeup of the committee deciding Kavanaugh’s fate, and obviously hurt his chances.

The second is what it means for women and sexual assault survivors. These hearings tell the world what it means for a man to assault a woman; whether that woman is believed, whether that man faces any consequence. Women across the United States are wearing pins bearing the words, “I believe you Dr. Christine Blasey Ford,” but the F.B.I has visited the professor to address the pile of incoming death threats. Almost one year ago, October brought us #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein’s undoing. The entertainment industry told the world a powerful man could no longer wield power if he had abused women. Now, the Senate Judiciary Committee will choose to make the same statement, or it will make another.

This sounds a lot like the Anita Hill trial, doesn’t it? (Wait, who is Anita Hill?)

It does. Anita Hill thinks so too. (She even penned an op-ed for The New York Times about it.) In October, 1991, Professor Anita Hill testified before an all-male panel of a Senate Judiciary Committee, and told her account of being sexually harassed years earlier by Judge Clarence Thomas who later became Justice Clarence Thomas. Christine Blasey Ford is a professor at Palo Alto University in California, while Ms. Hill at the time was a professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. They both came forward years after the alleged assaults. For all their similarities, there may be one stark difference. The excruciating detail of Ms. Hill’s account did not stop Justice Thomas later climbing the ranks. Dr. Ford’s could. What makes this moment so pertinent for women is the three decades that have existed since Ms. Hill stood before the world. What followed after Ms. Hill’s trial was the debated third wave of feminism and The Year of The Woman. In 1992, the highest number of women in US history ran for office. That number has not been contested, until now, as a record number of women in the US run in the midterms. The election of President Trump and the rise of #MeToo has put a fire in women’s bellies which we haven’t witnessed since the second wave of feminism, and as the midterms prove, maybe ever. History may not be on our side, but a few steps go a long way. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a woman who now sits on the committee Ford will testify before, was elected in The Year Of The Woman. And that could make all the difference.