In 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee had an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court. It failed on both counts.
As that same committee, on which sit some of the same members as nearly three decades ago, now moves forward with the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings, the integrity of the court, the country’s commitment to addressing sexual violence as a matter of public interest, and the lives of the two principal witnesses who will be testifying hang in the balance.
.. the public expects better from our government than we got in 1991, when our representatives performed in ways that gave employers permission to mishandle workplace harassment complaints throughout the following decades.
.. That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement.
.. To do better, the 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee must demonstrate a clear understanding that sexual violence is a social reality to which elected representatives must respond.
.. The details of what that process would look like should be guided by experts who have devoted their careers to understanding sexual violence.
.. Select a neutral investigative body with experience in sexual misconduct cases that will investigate the incident in question and present its findings to the committee. Outcomes in such investigations are more reliable and less likely to be perceived as tainted by partisanship. Senators must then rely on the investigators’ conclusions, along with advice from experts, to frame the questions they ask Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey.
.. The investigators’ report should frame the hearing, not politics or myths about sexual assault.
.. Do not rush these hearings. Doing so would not only signal that sexual assault accusations are not important — hastily appraising this situation would very likely lead to facts being overlooked that are necessary for the Senate and the public to evaluate.
.. Process is important, but it cannot erase the difficulty of testifying on national television about the sexual assault that Dr. Blasey says occurred when she was 15 years old. Nor will it negate the fact that as she sits before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dr. Blasey will be outresourced. Encouraging letters from friends and strangers may help, but she cannot match the organized support that Judge Kavanaugh has.