Brett Kavanaugh joins the Supreme Court

The consequences of a controversial confirmation process

On October 6, Brett Kavanaugh became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, after going through a controversial confirmation process. The question is, what does his appointment to the Supreme Court mean continuing forward, both politically and across society?

Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation process was fairly smooth until several sexual assault allegations emerged in late September, which delayed the vote of the Senate Judiciary Council; however, the key hearing of the confirmation process was when Dr. Christine Ford came before the council to answer questions about an alleged sexual assault that occurred in the early 1980s when both her and Kavanaugh were in high school. Despite the allegations against him, Kavanaugh was sworn in with 50 votes for and 48 against his appointment during the final vote in the United States Senate.

Immediately after Kavanaugh was sworn in, the message from the Democrats, to disappointed individuals, was to vote. Since the American midterm elections are November 6 and Republicans currently control the Senate by a slim majority, voting is a chance for those against Kavanaugh to voice their discontent with the Senators that voted him in. Furthermore, changing what party controls Congress can act as a safeguard against right-leaning Supreme Court decisions that are probable with Kavanaugh’s appointment since Congress can pass bills that override court rulings.

There are also worries about how Kavanaugh will vote when important cases involving issues like the right to bears arms and religion come up. 

Particularly, there are concerns that Kavanaugh might vote to overturn or weaken Roe v Wade, the case that establishes the right to access legal abortions. While Kavanaugh has stated that he acknowledges the case as precedent, he has sided in the past with dissenters to the outcome of the case. In general, Kavanaugh poses a political threat since he brings the number of right-leaning justices to a majority in the Supreme Court, which could mean the future rollback of rights.

Kavanaugh’s appointment has caused political concerns, but the messages from the way the allegations of sexual assault were handled during the confirmation are having a far greater impact on society. The contrast between the crowds of protesters outside the hearings versus President Trump’s strong convictions of Kavanaugh’s innocence shows that America is clearly divided over Kavanaugh. While some might see the sexual assault allegations as a distraction to voting in a Supreme Court justice, many others want to make sure that judges appointed for life will make decisions that are fair and just to all members of society, particularly women.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing over the sexual assault allegations also represented the imbalances in which men and women are treated during such cases. Dr. Ford, a highly educated woman, answered every question during the hearing calmly with the use of some scientific explanations, passed a polygraph test, and after all that, received death threats for going public with her accusations. 

Kavanaugh, on the other hand, did not answer all the questions, became extremely emotional and aggressive, attacked Democrats for trying to undermine him, and ended up on the Supreme Court. Even sexual assault allegations at the top level in America reflect that even if a woman does everything in her power to ensure her credibility, her accusations can be brushed aside in favour of an alleged perpetrator of sexual violence.

That is not to say that there were only faults with how Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimonies were presented and then weighed during the hearings. There is also the issue that the members of the Senate Judiciary Council are predominantly men, which undermines their ability to decide if Kavanaugh’s final Senate vote should occur since they do not represent the actual proportion of men and women in the United States. Women are at a higher risk of sexual assault and with limited representation on the Senate, they may be biased when it comes to sexual assault allegations. Furthermore, the FBI investigation that was ordered after Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh’s hearing was limited by which witnesses and evidence it could find in such a short period of time, which for some people, leaves it unable to prove Kavanaugh’s innocence.

Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court is sure to cause ripples for years to come politically and across American society. The greatest lesson that Kavanaugh’s confirmation process can teach is how much more work there is to do on how sexual assault allegations are examined, especially with respect to how victims are treated. Perhaps that lesson can be applied a bit closer to home at StFX, since the university is currently facing the complicated task of learning how properly address sexual assault on campus.