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Opinion

Editorial: America needs to hear from Christine Blasey Ford

FILES-US-POLITICS-COURT-KAVANAUGH
Judge Brett Kavanaugh speaks during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Sept. 4.
(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)

One thing is clear about the sensational accusation by a California psychologist that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high school students: The Senate Judiciary Committee must not vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination until it thoroughly investigates the detailed and disturbing claim by Christine Blasey Ford.

A hearing at which Ford and Kavanaugh testify under oath about her allegations, scheduled for Monday, is the beginning, but not the end, of such an inquiry.

The allegation against Kavanaugh didn’t emerge until after the committee had completed contentious hearings on Kavanaugh’s nomination. That’s largely because Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who received a letter from Ford earlier this summer, honored her constituent’s request for confidentiality. Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the committee, apparently didn’t refer the allegation to the FBI until the existence of the letter was reported in the press.

Senate Republicans and the White House denounced what they called a last-minute hit job. For example, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah declared: “I do not intend to allow Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation to be stalled because of an 11th-hour accusation that Democrats did not see fit to raise for over a month.”

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That was then. Ford’s decision Sunday to identify herself to the Washington Post has dramatically altered the situation. We now have an accuser willing to stand behind her story publicly and testify before the Senate. It’s an unsettling account even when allowance is made for the passage of time and Kavanaugh’s youth.

It’s an unsettling account even when allowance is made for the passage of time and Kavanaugh’s youth.

Ford described an incident at a party at a suburban Maryland house in the early 1980s at which Kavanaugh and a friend, both drunk, allegedly pushed her into a bedroom. She asserted that Kavanaugh held her down on a bed, tried fumblingly to disrobe her and held his hand over her mouth. She said she was afraid that he might “inadvertently” kill her. Ford said she was able to get away when the other teen, whom she identified as Mark Judge, jumped on top of her and Kavanaugh, toppling the pile of bodies.

Some might argue that the conduct Ford accuses Kavanaugh of should be excused as the long-ago excesses of an alcohol-impaired adolescent. But that’s not the nominee’s defense. He has issued a categorical denial that the incident Ford described occurred. “This is a completely false allegation,” he said in a statement released on Monday. “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday.” (Judge has also denied that the incident described by Ford occurred. “It’s just absolutely nuts,” Judge said. “I never saw Brett act that way.”)

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As late as Monday morning, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chairman, was insisting that it would be sufficient for the panel to reach out to Ford and Kavanaugh through the “standard procedure” for updating background information on nominees: follow-up telephone calls with “relevant parties.” Given the seriousness of Ford’s accusation, however, that stripped-down approach was clearly inadequate.

On Monday Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), whose vote is considered crucial to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, said that he and Ford should testify under oath before the committee. Later in the day, the White House issued a statement saying that Kavanaugh “looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation.”

The committee had been scheduled to vote on the nomination Thursday; that has now been pushed back. Obviously the panel should not vote on the nomination until it takes testimony from Kavanaugh and Ford. But it also needs to hear from Judge and any other witnesses who can shed light on what happened in that bedroom decades ago. It should also wait until it has the benefit of an FBI investigation into Ford’s accusation, which the White House should expedite.

It’s entirely possible that new hearings and an investigation still won’t answer all the outstanding questions conclusively. In that case, senators disposed to vote for Kavanaugh because of his sterling credentials and his conservative judicial philosophy will face an agonizing dilemma. But the committee owes it to the country and the court to try to arrive at the truth. If that means that the Supreme Court convenes on Oct. 1 with only eight justices, so be it.

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UPDATES:

4 p.m.: This editorial was updated to include the news that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, psychologist Christine Blasey Ford, will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week.

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This editorial was originally published at 2:20 p.m.


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