EDITORIAL: Amid allegations, put brakes on court vote

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Supreme Court Associate Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (Christy Bowe/Globe Photos/Zuma Press/TNS)

There were already numerous concerns about the U.S. Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court:

— The speed with which the nomination has been whisked through the Senate during a midterm election year — especially after the stonewalling received by President Barack Obama’s 2016 nominee, Merrick Garland, who was nominated much earlier than Kavanaugh during a presidential election year.

— The probity — let alone legality — of a president nominating a judge who might very conceivably be called upon to rule in cases in which that president may be a party.

— The hand-picking of only a fraction of the nominee’s judicial documents by partisan backers for review by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the public. In addition, President Trump cited executive privilege in keeping additional documents under wraps.

Still, the Senate’s majority Republicans turned defiantly deaf ears to these criticisms — and others — as they positioned themselves to catapult Kavanaugh to the high court. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination this week, with full a full Senate vote to follow.

Those votes must now be delayed after allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh exploded last week from whispered rumors to on-the-record accusations.

A California law professor, Christine Ford, in a story published Sunday in The Washington Post, claims Kavanaugh and another student drunkenly pinned her down during a party at a beach house in 1980. She said Kavanaugh tried to remove her bathing suit and covered her mouth to prevent her screams from being heard. All were high school students at the time.

More:Accuser’s story of attack roils plan for Kavanaugh vote

More:Kavanaugh’s accuser willing to talk to Congress, lawyer says

Kavanaugh and the other man, conservative writer Mark Judge, have strongly denied the allegations. And Kavanaugh’s defenders are questioning both the veracity of the claims and their timing. Complicating matters: Sen. Diane Feinstein of California, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, learned of the allegations in late July, when Ford contacted her and the Post.

"It’s disturbing that these uncorroborated allegations from more than 35 years ago, during high school, would surface on the eve of a committee vote after Democrats sat on them since July," said Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Perhaps — but not as disturbing as the allegations themselves.

After all, if the #Metoo movement has taught us anything, it is that women all too often long delay coming forward against perpetrators of abuse — if they come forward at all.

And Feinstein has said she acted to protect a promise of confidentiality to Ford, who initially had hoped to remain anonymous.

The timing, the motivation, the way the charges were initially handled — all can and should be examined as the allegations are thoroughly investigated. But that investigation must take place before a vote goes forward.

Will the Senate Judiciary Committee do the right thing and delay its vote? Concerns are well-founded.

The committee faced a similar set of allegations more than 25 years ago — and botched it badly. In 1991, law professor Anita Hill charged former EEOC co-worker and then-nominee Clarence Thomas with on-the-job sexual harassment. She testified at Thomas’ confirmation hearings, but the all-male committee, then led by Democrats, was far from open-minded.

“She was dragged through the mud,” New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer told NPR’s Terry Gross years later. “They accused; they questioned her motives … they questioned whether she was a woman scorned … They basically questioned her sanity and made her out to be a liar and potentially a lunatic.”

And Sen. Grassley wonders why someone wouldn’t come forward.

Political inconvenience aside, the Senate can ill afford to move forward with such an important nomination in the wake of such serious charges. At stake, after all, is a lifetime appointment that could redefine the Supreme Court’s makeup for a generation or more.

None other than Anita Hill has weighed in from her own unique vantage point, urging the government find a “fair and neutral way” to investigate an allegation.

Majority members of the Judiciary Committee — like the committee itself in 1991, all male — must waste no time in cancelling the Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote and moving quickly to thoroughly bur fairly investigate these disturbing claims.

They didn’t listen to Anita Hill in 1991. They must do so today.