It is hard to overstate the confusion, inconsistency and chaos that has emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Clearly, it would have made a key difference if Professor Christine Blasey Ford had come forward weeks ago with her allegation that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when she was 15 years old. Or if Sen. Diane Feinstein had revealed, prior to last week, her knowledge of the event.
But the way that Sen. Charles Grassley and his Republican colleagues have handled the disclosure is also eerily reminiscent of how poorly Sen. Joseph Biden and the Judiciary Committee handled the Anita Hill testimony about Justice Clarence Thomas 28 years ago.
There was no investigation then, and according to Grassley, there will be no investigation now. All this despite the ancillary evidence available in the memoir of his high school years at Georgetown Prep by Mark Judge, the person whom Blasey Ford says was in the room where she says the assault took place.
Judge’s book talks almost gleefully about the near-permanent state of inebriation that he and his prep school buddies lived in. Kavanaugh is a character in Judge’s book (though with a slightly different first name), whom he characterizes as being constantly drunk. Why is Mark Judge not being called as a witness before the Judiciary Committee?
But there is an even bigger question. We have historical evidence that Blasey Ford has focused on this traumatic event well before this week, or this summer. She raised it with the marriage counselor she and her husband were seeing more than half a decade ago. The therapist has notes of the conversation.
Even more important, lawyers for Blasey Ford recommended that she take a lie-detector test. The test, administered by a former FBI agent, showed that she was indeed describing truthfully the assault that had happened when she was a teenager.
It is difficult to rationalize how Grassley and his fellow Republicans can shunt aside a request for an FBI investigation of Blasey Ford’s testimony. According to news reports, similar investigations have occurred within a period of one or two weeks. But even if the Judiciary Committee will not invite such an investigation, surely they can request that Kavanaugh undergo the same kind of lie-detector test that Blasey Ford took.
There can be no overstating the importance of this issue. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, the Supreme Court will have a right-wing majority for decades to come. It will make the Roosevelt court of the 1930s that invalidated critical New Deal legislation look like a bunch of moderates. On that occasion, Roosevelt’s proposal to add three new judges to the court – his famous “court-packing plan” – led the court to reverse itself on a critical issue. In 1935, it had invalidated a minimum wage law for women in New York State by a 5-4 vote. Two years later, in an almost identical case, it upheld a similar law, 5-4, in what became known as the “switch in time that saved nine.”
But a court with Kavanaugh on it would be very unlikely to make that kind of adjustment. Instead, it might not only reverse Roe v. Wade, but also fail to uphold lower court rulings on gerrymandering, as well as numerous other social welfare programs being challenged by conservatives.
This is no time to embark on such a dangerous path, making the Supreme Court an embodiment of reactionary right-wing politics. Demanding that Judge Kavanaugh take a lie-detector test is surely the least that can be done to assure a modicum of concern for the truth.
William H. Chafe is the Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History, emeritus, at Duke University.