On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Judiciary Committee cancelled a planned vote on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh following recent sexual assault allegations lodged against him. The vote, which had originally been scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 20, may be rescheduled at a later time.
Despite four days of contentious confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to replace the seat being vacated by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, was all but certain to be confirmed prior to last week. But on Sept. 13, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that she had sent the FBI a letter from a woman claiming that she had been assaulted by Kavanaugh during high school.
The letter had originally been sent to U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who passed it along to Feinstein’s office on July 30. After Feinstein announced she had passed the letter onto the FBI, speculation began swirling about the identity of the woman, who eventually came forward on Sept. 18 to recount her version of events.
The woman, Christine Blasey Ford, told The Washington Post that, when she was 15 years old, she attended a house party in Montgomery County, and Kavanaugh, then 17, and a friend, Mark Judge, had corralled her into a room. She claims Kavanaugh pinned her down and attempted to undress her, putting his hand over her mouth to stifle any screams. She eventually escaped, but was reportedly traumatized by the event.
Senate Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have scheduled a hearing on Monday and have attempted to contact Ford’s lawyer to confirm she will testify about her experience. Kavanaugh is also expected to testify. However, as of 1 p.m. Tuesday, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he had not heard back from Ford’s lawyer, Washington attorney Debra Katz.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who initially called for a delay of the vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination from the committee to the full Senate upon hearing of Ford’s allegations, told CNN that if Ford refuses to testify on Monday, he’ll support his party’s decision to push forward with a confirmation vote.
Kavanaugh’s nomination is being watched with particular interest by LGBTQ and HIV advocacy organizations, who believe that Kavanaugh’s views opposing same-sex marriage, his opposition to the Affordable Care Act (including guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing conditions), and his views on civil rights generally will likely endanger members of the LGBTQ community
Earlier in the day, prior to the cancellation, more than 60 advocates wrote a letter to addressed to Grassley and Feinstein demanding a halt to any activity related to Kavanaugh’s nomination — including not only a confirmation vote but Monday’s scheduled hearing — until Ford’s claims are fully and thoroughly investigated.
“Scheduling a hearing on Monday allows no time for any such investigation to occur, undermining the credibility of the entire exercise,” the groups wrote in a letter. “Moving ahead on such an artificially expedited schedule will do lasting and irreparable damage to the legitimacy of not only the United States Senate but the Supreme Court as well.”
The groups previously sent a letter to the Judiciary Committee on July 31 outlining their objections to Kavanaugh, citing his perceived hostility towards the LGBTQ community and rejection of past Supreme Court precedents that have allowed for the expansion of LGBTQ rights. Citing that letter, the groups say that the assault allegations against Kavanaugh add to a mounting number of concerns about him, not the least of which is his trustworthiness and veracity.
“[T]hese new charges are serious and potentially disqualifying for any person being considered for a position of authority and trust. This is particularly so for someone nominated to serve on the nation’s highest court, thus making the need for a fair and independent investigation even more critical,” the groups’ most recent letter reads.
“Nearly twenty-seven years ago, Professor Anita Hill was vilified for coming forward to tell her story,” the letter adds, referring to allegations of sexual harassment lodged against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. “But even she was given a fuller hearing than what is currently being contemplated here. This is simply unacceptable. We urge the Senate not to repeat the grave mistakes of the past when it comes to addressing serious allegations of sexual misconduct by a nominee to the Supreme Court.”
Individual signatories weighed in on Senate Republicans’ seemingly rapid push to dispense with the allegations against Kavanaugh.
“Professor Blasey Ford’s allegations demand a full and thorough vetting,” Sharon McGowan, the chief strategy officer and legal director of Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “Since the announcement of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination [on] July 9, LGBT advocacy groups have repeatedly asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to release his full record so that the Senate and the public have full information about the man who has been nominated for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
“Time and time again, the GOP-majority has refused to heed our call and instead has rushed forward with confirmation hearings — despite the fact that 90 percent of the nominee’s records have not yet been disclosed,” McGowan continued. “The nomination process has been tainted from the start by the failure by both the nominee and Republican leadership to disclose key information in Kavanaugh’s record. The evidence suggesting that Kavanaugh has provided untruthful testimony under oath — about his substantive views, as well as his conduct while in the George W. Bush White House — only exacerbates our already grave concerns.
“We demand this nomination be halted until these serious sexual assault allegations can be properly and thoroughly investigated by both the Senate and by appropriate authorities,” McGowan added. “This should not be a partisan issue and we ask the Senate Judiciary Committee and all of the members of the United States Senate to put integrity and principles above partisanship.”
Lambda Legal previously filed several FOIA requests and at least two lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to compel those agencies to release documents related to Brett Kavanaugh’s position as White House Staff Secretary during the George W. Bush administration. Lambda Legal particularly asked for documents relating to any role Kavanaugh may have played in crafting or pushing for policies that discriminated against LGBTQ couples, their children, and families.
Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, another signatory to the letter, said that Ford’s allegations were “detailed, credible, and corroborated by reports to third parties,” and thus merit further investigation.
The Human Rights Campaign, which did not sign onto the letter, also called for a delay of any vote and a full vetting of the charges against Kavanaugh.
“Christine Glaser Ford is brave to come forward with her story, and she must be treated with respect and dignity. Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination process has been anything but transparent, and now with this grave charge of sexual assault, this process must be halted immediately,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement.
“Moving forward with this confirmation process without conducting a thorough investigation would be deeply troubling and offensive to the American people, but more importantly to survivors of sex crimes across the country,” Griffin added. “It would communicate their trauma isn’t worthy of justice if a person sitting on the nation’s highest court can be confirmed without being investigated for alleged sexual violence.”
HRC previously went on record opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination, citing concerns about his perceived anti-LGBTQ views. Kavanaugh has been criticized for choosing to represent a firm accused of mistreating HIV-positive inmates and even denying them life-saving antiretroviral treatment, according to a report by the American Ledger, a project of the liberal-leaning American Bridge 21st Century.
Dallas attorney David Coale, of Lynn Pinker Cox & Hurst, has noted that the allegations against Kavanaugh could throw his eventual confirmation into question.
“This is not a court case, so the discussion about confirmation has the potential to be very wide-open,” Coale noted. “Given the narrow margin in the Senate, and the sensitivity of a sexual assault claim, it’s increasingly difficult to predict how a confirmation vote may go.”