RUTGERS AMERICAN CONSTITUTION SOCIETY: Senate must learn to deal with allegations

Nearly three decades after the Anita Hill testimony, and a year since the beginning of the #MeToo reckoning, the Senate is not prepared to deal with yet another sexual allegation of its own. Especially when doing so would put a seat on the Supreme Court at risk — the seat that it is well aware will decide the fate of women’s rights for a generation.

On Sept. 12, rumors began to circulate that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, was in possession of a letter alleging that Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald J. Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, had sexually assaulted a girl when he was 17. By Sunday, Sept. 16, The New York Times and The Washington Post had confirmed and elaborated on the story. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward with allegations that Kavanaugh and a friend attempted to rape her during a get-together at a friend’s house when they were all in high school.

Surprisingly, given our polarized times, what followed were calls from both sides of the political spectrum for Ford to get the opportunity to testify before the Judiciary Committee. But, the consensus did not last long.

Kavanaugh’s defenders now say this is character assassination, that he could not have done this, that this is no reason to deny an accomplished man a job, that Ford is mistaken, that this was just “rough horseplay,” that even if he did it, he was just a teenager — and other excuses we have heard a thousand times before made on behalf of thousands of other men.

Ford’s defenders want an investigation and a fair hearing.

Regardless of how this latest controversy unfolds, we already know how at least one alleged sexual predator has behaved in this job. The Supreme Court already has one on the bench: Justice Clarence Thomas.

Thomas was confirmed in 1991 after Hill testified before the Judiciary Committee detailing the abuse she suffered. He routinely used sexually violent language, describing pornography he watched, including scenes with women having sex with animals and rape scenes. He described his own “sexual prowess.” He repeatedly subjected her to unwanted advances and constantly disrespected her boundaries. Given his treatment of Hill, it is no surprise that Thomas has spent his 27 years on the Court ruling against women’s interests.

Thomas has consistently voted to restrict women’s rights. He sided with the majority in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby to allow employers to use religious objections to deny their employees birth control, thus limiting access to a key provision from the Affordable Care Act for millions of women throughout the country. He voted with the majority to weaken access to equal pay protections in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire (in a victory for the checks and balances system, this was later overruled by Congress when it passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act). In another majority decision, he voted to weaken federal sexual harassment protections in the workplace. In a more recent case, Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, he voted with the minority to impose unrealistically burdensome regulations on Texas medical facilities that provided abortions.

While Thomas’s decisions have not always become law, they have consistently been anti-woman. The Court does not need yet another alleged sexual harasser on the bench.  

While the powerful individuals defending Kavanaugh seem to be afraid that men will continue to be taken down by allegations of sexual harassment, women and other vulnerable individuals are afraid that these sorts of abuses will never stop.

If you or someone you know is experiencing or has experienced sexual harassment or violence, call or email Rutgers’ Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance, a 24/7 confidential campus resource, at 848-932-1181 or [email protected] 

Emma Pallarino, Andreina Mazzei and Mickey Vargas make up the Executive Board of the Rutgers Law School - Newark branch of the American Constitution Society. Their column, "Constitutionally Concerned," runs on alternate Mondays. 


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