In an unsigned editorial Tuesday morning, The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote this about the planned Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on sexual assault allegations made by California professor Christine Blasey Ford against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh:
"This is simply too distant and uncorroborated a story to warrant a new hearing or to delay a vote. We've heard from all three principals, and there are no other witnesses to call. Democrats will use Monday's hearing as a political spectacle to coax Mr. Kavanaugh into looking defensive or angry, and to portray Republicans as anti-women. Odds are it will be a circus."
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That argument is part of a broader case made in the WSJ piece that the timing of Ford's decision to come forward, her hiring of a lawyer with a past of Democratic activism and the decisions of Judiciary Committee ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein all reek of politics -- of an attempt by the opposition party to do whatever it takes to besmirch a good man and, by doing so, hurt President Donald Trump and the broader conservative movement.
The problem with the editorial (or I should say, the main problem, because there are several -- which I'll lay out later) is this: It makes the argument for less transparency, less disclosure, less light. We can't know who is telling the truth here, so we can't possibly try, is the underlying argument. This is never an acceptable argument when dealing with allegations of sexual assault of the sort Ford is making. That's particularly true given the stakes here. We are talking about a lifetime appointment for Kavanaugh to the highest and most influential court in the country. In the last decade, we have seen the Supreme Court legalize gay marriage, reshape campaign finance laws and uphold the Affordable Care Act and Trump's travel ban. It's a hugely influential role, and knowing the character of the people you are putting on the court is absolutely essential.
Ford's husband, Russell, put that idea nicely in an interview with The Washington Post, which initially broke the news of the accuser's identity. "I think you look to judges to be the arbiters of right and wrong," he said. "If they don't have a moral code of their own to determine right from wrong, then that's a problem. So I think it's relevant. Supreme Court nominees should be held to a higher standard."
At a minimum, given the allegation and the stakes, the senators who have to decide whether Kavanaugh is fit to sit on the court should not only get to hear directly from both Ford and Kavanaugh, but also to ask questions of both of them as well. (Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced late Monday that a public hearing featuring both Ford and Kavanaugh would be held next week.)
The idea that we should just ignore Ford's allegations because we are unlikely to know beyond a shadow of a doubt who is lying and who is not is beyond ridiculous.
While that's the biggest problem with the Wall Street Journal editorial on Ford and Kavanaugh, it's not the only one. Here's a few more:
- The WSJ editorial board views the timing of Ford's accusations as clearly politically motivated and therefore, not worth paying serious attention to. While there's little question that we are very late in Kavanaugh's confirmation process, Ford sent a letter to Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and anonymously tipped off the Post, back in July. And according to one of her friends quoted in this Mercury News story, Ford told her about the alleged assault by Kavanaugh in 2017 -- long before he was Trump's pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.
- The Journal notes that Debra Katz, Ford's lawyer, "has a history of Democratic activism and spoke in public defense of Bill Clinton against the accusations by Paula Jones." But that description of Katz sells the lawyer short. The Post story describes her as a "Washington lawyer known for her work on sexual harassment cases." Katz's own website notes that she was named as one of Washingtonian's top lawyers from 2003 to 2017. Shrinking her portfolio to "Democratic activist" seems unfair to Katz. (Sidebar: Ford is also a registered Democrat.) The issue is whether or not what Ford is saying is credible. She or her lawyer's political affiliation is worth noting, sure, but far from any sort of definitive proof of, well, anything.
- The editorial questions whether Ford actually was reluctant to come forward with her allegations -- noting that she hired Katz, took a polygraph test, sent a letter to Feinstein about the alleged incident and contacted the Post's anonymous tip line. According to the Journal: "The more relevant question is why go to such lengths if Ms. Ford really wanted her name to stay a secret? Even this weekend she could have chosen to remain anonymous. These are the actions of someone who was prepared to go public from the beginning if she had to." Um, what? How someone processes an event as traumatic as what Ford alleges happened in high school is an incredibly complex emotional and intellectual process. How and why Ford went from wanting to preserve her anonymity to being willing to publicly talk about the incident isn't a process that should be chalked up simply to politics. It's at least as likely that, witnessing the #MeToo movement and feeling as though this whole thing was bigger than just her, Ford changed her mind on speaking out.
- The Journal piece offers a barely veiled threat at Senate Republicans. "GOP Senators should understand that the political cost of defeating Mr. Kavanaugh will likely include the loss of the Senate," the piece reads. The argument is that a Kavanaugh defeat would badly demoralize the Republican base in advance of the 2018 midterms -- and that depression coupled with Democrats' huge enthusiasm to vote would flip control. I'm not sure, politically speaking, that's actually true, but it's also beside the point. The point is this: Republican (and Democratic) senators should have as their first and only priority getting as close to the truth of the allegations made by Ford against Kavanaugh as possible. Ask the questions -- even the uncomfortable ones -- that help them and us get the best sense possible of what really happened and what (if anything) it tells us about Kavanaugh. But don't be held hostage to the idea that if Kavanaugh doesn't wind up on the court -- no matter what he and Ford say next week -- it will be curtains for Senate Republicans.
The Journal editorial isn't totally wrong. It is likely that the hearing will be an absolute circus. And that we won't likely get the unvarnished truth of what happened at that party in the 1980s. But Ford knew all of that. And yet, she decided she was willing to come forward and tell her story. The least we can do is hear what she has to say -- and how Kavanaugh responds.