Chicago Tribune: After the FBI report, confirm Kavanaugh


Chicago Tribune



The FBI has delivered its confidential report on Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. Some senators who’ve read the report say it contains no fresh revelations, or corroboration of her charge.

If that’s an accurate description of the FBI report, the Senate should vote to confirm him.

No, this wasn’t a foregone conclusion. We admire Ford, who showed tremendous courage in coming forward, and we don’t doubt that she was being absolutely honest. She inspired millions of Americans with her riveting testimony and poise under pressure. We wondered whether witnesses from the 1980s could support her testimony.

That’s why we repeatedly argued for a halt in the confirmation process — to give the FBI an opportunity to produce new evidence.

We start from this principle when we evaluate nominees: By winning election, presidents earn the right to nominate justices. The Tribune doesn’t weigh a nominee’s political leanings, but whether he or she will decide cases with respect for the Constitution, for statutes and for the separation of power among the three branches of government. Any political litmus test — how would Kavanaugh vote on incendiary issues such as abortion — is speculation. Justices often foil those predictions.

We favor candidates who have demonstrated their fitness on objective grounds. That’s why we praised President Bill Clinton’s choice of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993 as “a thoughtful and careful judge who can’t be easily labeled. In the court as well as the confirmation hearings, those qualities should make her a breath of fresh air.” And why we applauded President Barack Obama’s choices of Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010. Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan were unambiguously liberal nominees — irrelevant to our endorsements.

We didn’t care for Kavanaugh’s angry, defensive and at times rude behavior in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nor did we care for nasty attacks on him by some senators. The confirmation process needs an overhaul. But we find no trace of an intemperate Kavanaugh in the 300 decisions he has written over 12 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Since the testimony of Ford and Kavanaugh, we’ve heard many people frame the confirmation process as a job interview. Others invoke legal standards of “due process” and “innocent until proven guilty.” Neither is entirely apt.

By constitutional design, this is a political process, this time playing out in a polarized America. Democrats sprang a last-second surprise to derail the nomination, or at least delay it. With Ford’s assent, Senate investigators or the FBI could have promptly and discreetly dealt with these questions over the summer with much less pain for both families. Democrats who had called for this FBI investigation said Thursday they aren’t satisfied with its brevity. It is likely, however, that most opponents would not be satisfied by any length of investigation that gave them no fresh ammunition.

Yes, we understand that installing Kavanaugh on the court could be taken as a message to women that if you speak up about a sexual assault, you won’t be believed or make a difference. Yet there is powerful evidence to the contrary: Think of the scores of powerful men whose history of sexual abuse and harassment has caught up with them in the #MeToo era. Those disgraced men will tell you that women are heard and believed today.

We also are heartened by reports that as Ford testified, the National Sexual Assault Hotline was swamped by calls. Women, some in their 70s, reportedly spoke up for the first time, telling family and friends about rapes or assaults that had happened decades ago. Women won’t — and shouldn’t — be silent about sexual assault ever again.

A yes vote on Kavanaugh is not a referendum on whether you believe him or her. You can believe both are convinced they are telling the truth. But belief isn’t evidence. The Senate should vote.

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