Supreme drama ma

A hear­ing that split Amer­ica

The Guardian Weekly - - Front page -

The # Me­Too move­ment has landed on the doorstep of one of the most ven­er­ated Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions, the supreme court. In do­ing so, it has given women even more fuel for the fight.

Last Thurs­day, in of­fices, bars and class­rooms, Amer­i­cans paused to watch Dr Chris­tine Blasey Ford de­scribe an al­leged at­tempted rape to a Se­nate com­mit­tee of 17 men and four women. They watched the man who de­nies the al­le­ga­tion, Brett Ka­vanaugh, re­spond with anger.

For sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault and women’s ac­tivists, the hear­ing was an­other re­minder that men who might have been vi­o­lent to­wards women should not be al­lowed to de­fine nar­ra­tives, shape in­sti­tu­tions and dic­tate stan­dards. On the line is one of the nine seats on the supreme court, an in­sti­tu­tion that de­cides land­mark cases such as one that made school se­gre­ga­tion il­le­gal and an­other that made same-sex mar­riage le­gal.

“I think there’s go­ing to be a move­ment around this, and I think it will be even big­ger than any­thing that’s hap­pened be­fore,” Ta­tiana Perkins, who was raped by a fam­ily mem­ber when she was eight, said. “There was the women’s march, there was #Me­Too, and I think ev­ery­thing is go­ing to come to­gether and it’s go­ing to make some waves.”

Perkins only caught glimpses of the hear­ing be­cause she spent the day march­ing in Wash­ing­ton DC, in protest against Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion. Re­flect­ing on Ford’s tes­ti­mony later that night, she said, left her feel­ing numb about her own ex­pe­ri­ence. “I felt sad for ev­ery other sur­vivor that’s gone through this be­cause I can’t care about my­self any more,” Perkins said.

Perkins cam­paigns for the women’s health group Planned Par­ent­hood, which she said pro­vided a safe place to dis­close her as­sault after she had kept silent for more than 10 years. If Ka­vanaugh is con­firmed, as is ex­pected de­spite the an­nounce­ment of a new FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Perkins ex­pects she will fi­nally break down and cry, hav­ing held it to­gether through the trau­matic cy­cle of the nom­i­na­tion. That re­lease, she said, will be met with a plan for what’s next. “I don’t think him be­ing voted in is the end,” Perkins said. “It’s the be­gin­ning.”

On the day of the hear­ing, two groups that fight for the rights of sex­ual as­sault vic­tims – Planned Par­ent­hood and the Rape, Abuse & Incest Na­tional Net­work (Rainn) – saw sharp in­creases in traf­fic on their web­sites. Calls to Rainn’s na­tional abuse hot­line jumped by 201%. A spokesper­son for the Planned Par­ent­hood Ac­tion Fund (PPAF) said its cam­paign site saw more traf­fic last Thurs­day than all year. “Mil­lions of women and count­less sur­vivors were watch­ing to­day,” PPAF tweeted, “and they saw a Se­nate ma­jor­ity that has aban­doned them.”

Since the supreme court formed in 1790, there have been 113 jus­tices. A grand to­tal of six ap­pointees have not been not white men. Be­cause they are ap­pointed by a pres­i­dent, jus­tices’ ju­di­cial records tend to sup­port the goals of that pres­i­dent. At the mo­ment, four jus­tices lean con­ser­va­tive and four lib­eral. The ninth was An­thony Kennedy, a con­ser­va­tive “swing vote” be­cause he voted with the lib­er­als in some ma­jor cases.

But Kennedy de­cided to re­tire, giv­ing Don­ald Trump a chance to tilt the court in favour of a con­ser­va­tive agenda that could in­clude an at­tempt to over­turn Roe v Wade, the 1973 rul­ing that guar­an­tees abor­tion rights. In an ear­lier Se­nate hear­ing, Ka­vanaugh was asked if he would make a com­mit­ment against over­turn­ing the law. He de­clined to re­spond. With that case on the line, and the per­son who could

de­liver its death knell ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault, it was no won­der eyes were glued to tele­vi­sions last Thurs­day.

Pre­lim­i­nary viewer re­ports show that, from 11am to 6.45pm on that day, nearly 20% of US house­holds with tele­vi­sions were watch­ing the hear­ing at any given time, ac­cord­ing to Nielsen an­a­lysts. CBS News and CNN said it was their big­gest day of the year for dig­i­tal video views. More than 10 mil­lion peo­ple pressed play on CNN’s apps, web­site, Face­book stream­ing ser­vice and YouTube chan­nel. That at­ten­tion par­al­leled the 1991 con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings for jus­tice Clarence Thomas, in which at­tor­ney Anita Hill tes­ti­fied after ac­cus­ing Clarence Thomas of sex­ual harass­ment.

“We have been forced to watch once again as a woman re­counts her trauma for pub­lic con­sump­tion,” said Fa­tima Goss Graves, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Na­tional Women’s Law Cen­ter, “as the ma­jor­ity of the com­mit­tee ral­lied around Brett Ka­vanaugh.” But all was not lost, she said, be­cause “women are watch­ing – and we are ready to fight”.

The out­lines of that fight took shape as women filled the halls of Congress, protest­ing against Ka­vanaugh. The or­gan­is­ers of the women’s march, whose Jan­uary 2017 protest was prob­a­bly the largest sin­gle-day demon­stra­tion in US his­tory, said last Fri­day they would soon re­lease de­tails on a new march. They also hung ban­ners op­pos­ing Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion in the atrium of the Se­nate of­fice build­ing. One ban­ner car­ried the same mes­sage as chants in the halls of Congress: “Novem­ber is com­ing.” It was a re­minder that midterm elec­tions are ex­pected to set a record for fe­male vic­to­ries and in­spire fe­male vot­ers. At least one Repub­li­can se­na­tor seemed to re­spond.

As mem­bers of the ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee pre­pared to vote to send Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion to the full cham­ber, Jeff Flake of Ari­zona said he would not vote yes un­less an FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion was held in the next week. The White House then or­dered it. Ear­lier that morn­ing, Flake had en­dorsed Ka­vanaugh. Be­tween his en­dorse­ment and his call for FBI in­volve­ment, net­works showed live footage of the se­na­tor be­ing con­fronted by a pro­tester, Maria Gal­lagher, in an el­e­va­tor. Gal­lagher iden­ti­fied her­self as a rape sur­vivor and told Flake: “I didn’t tell any­one and you’re telling all women that they don’t mat­ter, that they should just stay quiet, be­cause if they tell you what hap­pened to them, you are go­ing to ig­nore them.”

Asked about the en­counter, Flake said: “It has been re­mark­able over the past week the num­ber of peo­ple who saw Dr Ford yes­ter­day who were em­bold­ened to come out and say what had hap­pened to them. I’ve heard from friends – close friends – and I had no idea.”

Clockwise, Dr Chris­tine Blasey Ford at a Se­nate hear­ing; sup­port­ers of Brett Ka­vanaugh; ac­tivists for sex­ual abuse sur­vivors in Chicago Melina Mara/Getty; Joshua Roberts/ Reuters; Scott Ol­son/Getty

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