In the end, the women were ignored. Thousands of protesters in hundreds of cities demanded, “No Justice, No Seat!” And more than 500 people were arrested in Washington, D.C. But the patriarchy prevailed with the Oct. 6 confirmation of a second Supreme Court justice widely believed to be a sexual predator.
Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony that she had been sexually assaulted as a teenager by Bret Kavanaugh detailed the behavior of an arrogant, habitually drunk scion of the ruling class. She was backed up by other male and female contemporaries who told of Kavanaugh’s out-of-control behavior.
Their accounts brought to the surface the painful experiences of vast numbers of sexual assault survivors. But neither their anger nor Blasey Ford’s highly credible testimony could sway the 50 senators, including five women and one Democrat, who approved Kavanaugh.
Republican Congresswoman Susan Collins of Maine was particularly manipulative. She deceptively tried to portray Kavanaugh as a moderate who posed no threat to reproductive justice, the Affordable Care Act, or queer rights.
Dems hide behind Blasey Ford. Kavanaugh’s confirmation ended up hinging on hard-to-prove sexual harassment charges because Democrats were unwilling to risk midterm election votes by coming out strongly against his entirely provable record of right-wing legal opinions.
Most Democratic candidates are hoping to appeal to moderates and conservatives by avoiding hard issues. They want to win rather than pose a serious challenge to the country’s slide rightward. If they had mobilized in opposition to Kavanaugh’s full agenda it might have alienated undecided, middle-of-the-road voters. So they sparred against Kavanaugh without really landing any punches about his devastating record.
Kavanaugh has undermined the authority of the National Labor Relations Board. He argued that undocumented workers don’t have the same bargaining rights as other workers. He supported employers in throwing out results of union elections and opposed job safety protections.
He sided with religious organizations that demanded exemption from contraception coverage for their employees. He weighed in against an undocumented immigrant teen fighting to have an abortion. He was fine with warrantless spying by the National Security Agency and opposed net neutrality. He took issue with consumer protections in cases involving the meatpacking and banking industries. He has stood on the wrong side of many environmental issues.
He denounced affirmative action as a discriminatory practice in a speech at Notre Dame Law School. He argued that sitting presidents should not be subject to civil or criminal charges and that the president need not follow laws he thinks unconstitutional. What a perfect fit for the Trump administration!
Despite this record, Kavanaugh’s opponents had pretty much thrown in the towel until Blasey Ford came forward. Her decision to face her attacker, at immense personal cost, showed far more courage than anything Democratic officials did.
Myth of impartiality. Anyone educated in the U.S. has learned that the Supreme Court is a beacon of truth and reason that perfectly checks and balances the federal government. This is quite a feat for an undemocratic institution that features unelected justices who serve for life and are nominated by the sitting president — who of course has a political agenda.
The pool of federal judges, which the Supreme Court is drawn from, is also unelected and privileged. In 2016, of the 1,352 active and semiretired federal judges, 60 percent were white men, another 11 percent were Black men, and seven percent were Latino men. Just one-quarter of federal judges were women and only seven percent of those were women of color.
Those who make it to the Supreme Court are also rich. Stephen Breyer is worth at least $6 million, and six other justices are also millionaires, including Kavanaugh.
What can be done? As Howard Zinn wrote in a 2005 article, “Don’t Despair About the Supreme Court”:
The courts have never been on the side of justice, only moving a few degrees one way or the other, unless pushed by the people. Fundamental change will depend … on the actions of an aroused citizenry.
And people in the U.S. are aroused! What’s needed now is to turn up the heat.
New ranks of feminists and other activists have hit the streets against misogynistic white supremacists, anti-Semites, and fetus fetishists. They have defended abuse survivors and immigrant families. The outrage needs to galvanize into coordinated efforts.
Massive movements for legal abortion and gay marriage, for racial integration and voting rights, were the driving force behind the Supreme Court’s most important rulings. This is what is needed to preserve and expand the rights that will be tested by this new court. Don’t despair, organize!