Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

A California woman's allegation of sexual assault against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh demands further investigation and a delay of a Senate committee vote planned for Thursday.
[Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer]
A California woman's allegation of sexual assault against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh demands further investigation and a delay of a Senate committee vote planned for Thursday. [Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer]
Published September 17
Updated September 17

The Senate and the nation needs to hear more about the sexual assault allegation against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Setting aside Kavanaugh's judicial record, his political past and the hyper-partisan divide over his nomination, a nominee for a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court should not be confirmed without a thorough investigation of such a serious allegation. It is encouraging that Kavanaugh and his accuser have both agreed to testify before the Senate, and that should delay any votes on his confirmation until senators and the public can evaluate the allegations and determine whether they raise legitimate concerns about his fitness for the court.

The accusation dates back decades. Christine Blasey Ford, 51, says Kavanaugh attacked her during a high school party in Maryland in the 1980s, when she was 15 and he was 17. In a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Ford describes a drunken Kavanaugh and his friend, whom she identified as his prep school classmate Mark Judge, pushing her into an upstairs bedroom. Kavanaugh and Judge locked the door and cranked up the music to keep anyone from hearing Ford yell for help, she recalls, and then Kavanaugh climbed on top of her on a bed, pinned her down and clumsily tried to pull off her clothes. Judge was laughing and urging Kavanaugh along, Ford says. "With Kavanaugh's hand over my mouth I feared he may inadvertently kill me," she wrote. She says she got away when Judge jumped on top of them and they all three hit the floor.

Ford, a psychology professor living in California, barely mentioned the incident -- and never reported it to authorities -- until 2012 when she was in therapy with her husband. A therapist's notes support her current account, as do notes from an individual therapy session the next year. She came forward earlier this summer, before Kavanaugh was formally nominated to the Supreme Court but when it was known he was on Trump's short list. She contacted her member of Congress, who forwarded her letter to Feinstein, and reached out to the Washington Post with her story but refused to go on the record. “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” she told the Post. She took and passed a polygraph test, while still remaining anonymous. But as her name began to leak, she determined it was her "civic duty" to come forward and tell her story accurately. Those are not the actions of someone who fabricated a story for political gain.

Kavanaugh strongly denies the incident ever took place, as does Judge. Kavanaugh has served on the federal bench for more than a decade and had a distinguished legal career before that. He has not been publicly accused of anything resembling Ford's claim before. Given how long ago the alleged incident is to have occurred and the small number of people present, it may be impossible to "prove" what really happened. But hearing from Ford and Kavanaugh will still be instructive. What is Ford's demeanor when discussing the accusation? What is Kavanaugh's? What do others who knew them at the time recall? Does this story prompt anyone else to come forward about encounters with Kavanaugh?

Harder to answer will be what happens after Kavanaugh and Ford tell their stories. Senators, so far sharply divided along partisan lines, should hope information is forthcoming about the veracity of the allegations before they have to vote on whether to confirm Kavanaugh. That's why it's appropriate to slow down the process and postpone the Senate Judiciary Committee's vote, which had been set for Thursday. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway correctly said Monday, "this woman should not be insulted and she should not be ignored." That's critical for the integrity both of Kavanaugh's nomination and of the Supreme Court.

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