Healing the Divide: Polarization obscured the real issues in Kavanaugh hearings

Last week, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court after a contentious journey to the seat. Kavanaugh was widely considered a lock to take the place of former justice Anthony Kennedy until September, when allegations of sexual assault were leveled against Kavanaugh by multiple women. The first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, captured the nation’s attention with her testimony, and Kavanaugh fired back with an equally dramatic one. The FBI started and ended a week-long investigation into Ford’s allegation, and even after all that, Kavanaugh was confirmed and is scheduled to start hearing cases this week.

Kavanaugh’s resumé, connections and capability weren’t the only factors affecting his confirmation to the Supreme Court. The vast gap in the Democratic and Republican parties’ agendas heavily influenced Kavanaugh’s appointment and obscured the true focus of the Kavanaugh hearings: sexual assault. There are certain issues that should not be politicized or exploited by either party, and sexual assault is one of them.     

“Unfortunately, the entire process [of Kavanaugh’s confirmation] was polarized,” communication professor Karen North told me. She noted that Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court wouldn’t have been likely if not for a recent change in Senate procedures.

When the procedure to end a filibuster in the Senate was changed in 2017 to allow a simple majority to end a filibuster or bring a Supreme Court nominee to a vote, we moved from a more collaborative system to a majority rules system.

In 2017, Republican members of Congress declared that only 51 senators were needed to secure a cloture vote for Supreme Court appointees, making it substantially easier for a majority party to elect federal judges to the Supreme Court. The GOP has full power to appoint a federal judge if it chose to invoke it — which it did — and has been able to bring extremely conservative judges, such as Kavanaugh, to the Supreme Court because of this.

Sen. Susan Collins even pointed out how current political conditions already determined how Kavanaugh’s nomination process would occur before his position was even officially announced.

“The president nominated Brett Kavanaugh on July 9,” Collins said. “Within moments of that announcement, special interest groups raced to be the first to oppose him, including one organization, [the Women’s March] that didn’t even bother to fill in the judge’s name on its pre-written press release — they simply wrote that they opposed ‘Donald Trump’s nomination of XX to the Supreme Court of the United States.’”

It was clear that some members of Congress did not vote for our newest Supreme Court justice with the democratic process and judicial ability in mind, but rather acted in the interest of hindering the political party that they oppose. These partisan tactics, much less those that exploit the traumatic experiences of one brave woman, have no place in our political system.       

Regardless of the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, his confirmation process to the U.S. Supreme Court was undemocratic — and Democrats and Republicans are both to blame.         

If it weren’t for the thick fog of political polarization, I believe that our country would have seen a more successful trial regarding Ford’s case as well. I believe that everyone wants to see justice for victims of sexual assault. This matter did not have to be made into a polarizing one; this news did not have to cause Democrats to be the ones who support victims of sexual assault and make Republicans those who turn a blind eye to those accused.

If not for our division, we perhaps could have seen a unified, sincere and thorough assessment of this case. The issues brought out in the #MeToo movement are neither liberal nor conservative. Issues of sexual assault are important to our entire nation, and are too important to be marred by the political horse race.

Arianna Scavone is a junior majoring in communication and law, history and culture. Her column, “Healing the Divide,” runs every other Thursday.