EDITORIAL: Time to hit reset button on Supreme Court pick

York Dispatch Editorial Board
FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh listens to a question while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

A remarkable day of testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday made one thing abundantly clear: Brett Kavanaugh must not be permitted a seat on the Supreme Court.

In recounting what she says was a drunken sexual assault by Kavanaugh when they were in high school in the 1980s, Christine Blasey Ford was a compelling, if reluctant, witness. Her account was earnest, consistent and credible.

This does not prove Kavanaugh’s guilt. But that was not the point of the hearing. Ford’s narrative, along with at least four additional allegations of past sexual improprieties leveled against Kavanaugh in recent days, raise too many questions about the nominee’s former actions and current character — actions the nominee himself has done too little to lay to rest.

Absent President Donald Trump’s willingness to order an FBI investigation into the claims — and given the Republican-led Judiciary Committee’s refusal to call witnesses who could corroborate or refute the various allegations — the questions remain too many and too serious to warrant passage to a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.

There are three options: A, the president should withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination; B, Kavanaugh himself should bow out; or C, one principled member of the Judiciary Committee’s Republican majority should vote against moving the nomination to the Senate floor.

Judging by Kavanaugh’s testimony at Thursday’s hearings, option B doesn’t seem likely. The nominee took a righteous-indignation page from the book of current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who found himself in a similarly warm seat 27 years ago.

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“You may defeat me in the final vote,” a visibly angry Kavanaugh told the committee, “but you’ll never get me to quit. Never!”

It was not a good look. And it came on a day that already saw:

  • Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley interrupt ranking Democratic member Sen. Diane Feinstein barely a minute into the hearings.
  • Republican committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham testily dismiss Ford’s testimony outside the hearing room and all but threaten future Democratic court nominees with partisan roadblocks. (He’s forgetting — his party is way ahead of him on this; see: Garland, Merrick.)
  • The unprecedented outright refusal of a single Republican senator on the committee to question Ford. The 11 white males instead hired an outside counsel, prosecutor Rachel Mitchell of Arizona, who, by the end of Ford’s testimony, seemed to be questioning the wisdom of the hearing.

It all added up to the appearance that Republicans in Washington are not only tone deaf to the #MeToo movement but are either uninterested or incapable of adjusting their hearing.

Meanwhile, Trump, who is loath to admit a mistake, has not acted to rescind Kavanaugh’s nomination. Just the opposite: In recent days he has defended the nominee, calling the growing number of charges a “con game.”

That leaves the Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination at 9:30 a.m. Friday. If there is a spine among the 11 men on the GOP side, its owner will vote against sending the nomination to the Senate floor.

Thursday’s hearing did not provide evidence of Kavanaugh’s guilt in relation to accusations that are more than 35 years old. But neither did it remove the legitimate questions as to his actions at that time and his honesty about them today, which remain defining characteristics of his fitness for the court.

Further investigation would have been fairer to all involved. But absent that, it would be derelict for Senate Republicans to rush so questionable a candidate onto the nation’s highest court.

One way or another, Kavanaugh’s nomination must be dismissed in favor of a new, more confidence-inspiring candidate.