A confirmation vote that was once thought to be a safe bet for Republicans will be put to its toughest test yet next Monday when Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing him of sexual assault, both testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The New York Times reported that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the committee, told senators that they would get the chance to hear from both parties before a confirmation vote.
Senators on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns about voting for Kavanaugh in light of allegations against the judge, maximizing the stakes for Kavanaugh, Republicans and Ford.
“Obviously if Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters. “For my part, I believe it’s very important that both Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testify under oath about these allegations. I need to see them and listen to their answers to the questions in order to make an assessment.”
Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University, accused Kavanaugh of groping her and attempting to remove her clothing by force when they were both in high school and at a party. Kavanaugh immediately and completely denied the allegation.
Shades of Clarence Thomas?
Some have already drawn the comparison of Kavanaugh’s situation to that of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991. Thomas was accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill. Hill testified before Thomas’s confirmation vote, but that testimony didn’t shift public opinion against Thomas, who was confirmed 52-48.
FiveThirtyEight notes that Thomas’s hearings took place in a much different cultural context than Kavanaugh’s, however. Polling even shows that in the years after Hill’s testimony against Thomas, the public began viewing sexual harassment as a bigger problem than they did before:
“Kavanaugh’s confirmation, meanwhile, is playing out during the #MeToo era, and public opinion of what is and isn’t appropriate behavior by men toward women has changed dramatically. In a 2018 poll by ABC News and The Washington Post, 72 percent of Americans said sexual harassment was a serious problem for women in the workplace — far higher than the share who felt that way before and just after Hill’s testimony.”
The increased sensitivity to sexual misconduct issues in 2018 as compared to 1991, in addition to Kavanaugh’s relative unpopularity compared to Thomas’s at the time of his nomination, indicate that next week’s testimonies could have massive impact on Kavanaugh’s future.