At 10am, the Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct formal questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Kavanaugh, nominated by President Trump in June to serve on the Court, has been accused by Ford of sexually assaulting her at a party in high school. After almost two weeks of public controversy, the Senate will hold an official hearing tomorrow to question the two witnesses. Here’s what you need to know:
A hearing, not a trial
The proceedings tomorrow are a hearing, not a trial. The Senate is not looking to solve the crime and levy a punishment against either party. Rather, it seeks to uncover necessary information for the confirmation process. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution states that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Judges of the supreme Court.” The Senate has the responsibility of vetting and confirming any nominees that the president submits for the court, and in order to do so, they must fully consider past actions that might compromise a nominee’s fitness.
Republican Senators sitting on the committee have designated Arizona Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to question both Kavanaugh and Ford on behalf of them. Mitchell has extensive experience in dealing with sexual assault incidents, as she oversees attorneys that handle child abuse sex cases. Both Mitchell and the Democrats will seek to probe both versions of the specific night and hope to expose inconsistencies in either of their testimonies.
Ford’s Allegations and Evidence
On September 16, 2018, Dr. Ford publicly alleged that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school party in the summer of 1982. She identified Mark Judge, a high school friend of Kavanaugh, as the witness of this event and will present four declarations to the Senate (one from her husband) which state that she has specifically named Kavanaugh as her assailant over the years.
While Ford has presented heavy allegations against Kavanaugh, she currently possesses little evidence to back her claims. For starters, Ford cannot remember certain key details of the night in question and never made her allegations public in the 30 years since. To further complicate matters, Ford has revealed notes from a therapist session in 2012 which contradict certain details of Ford’s public narrative. For example, Ford claimed that there were only two assailants (Kavanaugh and Judge) involved in the incident, whereas the notes describe her as stating that there were four. These notes never specifically name Kavanaugh as the assailant. Finally, all four of the witnesses identified by Ford have denied her accusations.
Kavanaugh’s Denial and Evidence
Given the sparse evidence presented by Ford, Kavanaugh could simply deny the event ever taking place and face little pressure. Instead of doing so, he has chosen to make a specific defense in denying Ford’s allegations. In a September 24 interview with Fox News, the nominee made three specific claims to back up his case. First, he claims to have been a virgin in high school and the years after. Second, he denies ever drinking to the point of memory loss. Third, he states that he never attended any parties in the area indicated by Ford. These three claims are very specific and will thus be subject to extreme scrutiny in the hearing, and if one of these claims proves to be false, it will shed a negative light on Kavanaugh’s character and will raise questions about his denial of Ford’s allegations.
In addition, Kavanaugh has presented calendars he kept from his high school years to the committee. The calendars show that the nominee was out of town for most of the summer of 1982 and never attended the specific party indicated by Ford. Although these records were kept by the judge himself, and therefore are not conclusive, they certainly help back up Kavanaugh’s denial.
Under the U.S. legal system, an accused party is assumed innocent until proven guilty, which means that the burden of proof rests on Ford to show that Kavanaugh is guilty of what she alleges. In a court of law, the evidence she currently possesses would not be sufficient to corroborate her claims. Nonetheless, if inconsistencies arise in Kavanaugh’s testimony in tomorrow’s hearing, it may be enough to lead some Senators to believe Ford’s claims. After all, the Senate is not a court of law, and the final say of Kavanaugh’s confirmation rests on the votes of the 100 members. The margin for error on the Republican side is already miniscule, and a single flipped vote could spell doom for Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court aspirations.
Get ready for a wild day.