The U.S. Supreme Court should hold itself to higher standards as Kavanaugh's nomination hangs in the balance.
Nearly three decades on from the Anita Hill case—where the young attorney accused U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment while he was her supervisor at the Department of Education and the EEOC—the U.S. Justice System still struggles to learn lessons about anonymity, sexual assault, and encouraging women to come forward. Earlier this summer, Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University, made the decision to report a prior incident of sexual assault. Until six years ago, she hadn’t even told anyone about what happened—the memory only came to light during a couples’ therapy session with her husband. Then U.S. president Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh—the man Ford says assaulted her for Supreme Court Justice—and she felt compelled to do something. Weighing up the impact of her career and family life, Ford made the decision to act with anonymity. But as the accusations were made public through leaked reports and pressure from the media, she quickly felt any control she had over her own privacy was “being chipped away” and on Sunday The Washington Post published her side of the story.
The comparison between Ford’s case and Anita Hill’s is hard to ignore. Thirty years ago, Hill accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of workplace sexual harassment during his confirmation hearing. Speaking to CNN, Hill said she knows “firsthand what happens when such a process is weaponized against an accuser and no one should have to endure that again.”
But some commentators have been quick to the turn the tables, suggesting that Democrats are trying to leverage comparisons between Ford and Hill for political gains, raising eyebrows over similarities between the two; both women were professors, both women were Democrats, both felt compelled to act when the man who assaulted them was announced as a nominee for the Supreme Court Justice. Two of these points are arbitrary. One is pivotal.
Testifying before the Senate in 1991, 30 million viewers heard Hill describe how her then-boss subjected her to a stream of lurid sexual comments. Voting to confirm Thomas’s nomination, the result sparked a national debate about sexual harassment in the workplace, while Hill faced an onslaught of death threats, bomb, threats, threats of sexual violence, and a campaign to have her fired from her job at Oklahoma University.
Given Hill’s treatment, no wonder Ford originally exercised her right to anonymity. But despite her best efforts, her decision to protect her identity was thwarted. The treatment both women have endured when coming forward to speak about a highly personal and traumatic incident proves the American political machine too easily grinds to halt when it comes to acting on lessons learned decades ago.
Ford’s own husband can clearly see why the matter is in public interest. Speaking with The Washington Post, he said Kavanaugh’s behavior bears heavily on his ability to do his job: “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.”
Mr Ford seems to be one of a few men—and women—who think allegations of sexual assault should be brought into account when someone is in the running to become one the country’s foremost mortal arbitrators. Fox News’s Brit Hume tweeted a link to the Post‘s interview with Ford, captioned by “Anita Hill Redux”—inferring that any comparison with the Anita Hill case is merely superficial. That treatment endured by Hill, and what that says about a victim’s ability come forward in the era of #MeToo just merely amounts to another political back and forth. Even his own daughter signed a letter signed along with 64 other women in support of Kavanaugh.
No one has the right to lord over, or dictate another person’s experience of sexual assault, especially when the perpetrator wields a level of power held by both Thomas and Kavanaugh. But, 30 years on, it looks like much hasn’t changed.