Grieder: Judge put self be­fore coun­try.

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - ERICA GRIEDER

We’ll prob­a­bly never know whether Brett Ka­vanaugh sex­u­ally as­saulted Chris­tine Blasey Ford at a small gath­er­ing when they were in high school in 1982. A week­long FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion into her al­le­ga­tion failed to con­firm his guilt. Repub­ma­tion li­cans, for the most part, took that as proof of his in­no­cence. On Sat­ur­day, Ka­vanaugh was con­firmed to the Supreme Court by the nar­row­est of mar­gins. Along the way John Cornyn, the ma­jor­ity whip and se­nior sen­a­tor from Texas, sug­gested that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was rea­son, in it­self, to sup­port Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir- to the Supreme Court.

“A vote against Judge Ka­vanaugh to­mor­row will be a vote for abus­ing the con­fir­ma­tion process and a good per­son, and it will be a vote for the shame­ful in­tim­i­da­tion tac­tics that have been em­ployed as part of an or­ches­trated smear cam­paign,” said Cornyn Thurs­day af­ter read­ing the FBI’s find­ings, which have not been re­leased to the gen­eral pub­lic.

Many Re­pub­li­cans had, at that point, come to a sim­i­lar con­clu­sion. There’s no ev­i­dence that Ford her­self was part of a par­ti­san scheme. But Ka­vanaugh was on the verge of con­fir­ma­tion when her al­le­ga­tion was made pub­lic last month. And Democrats were ea­ger to be­lieve the worst about him, even though it was pos­si­ble, at least, that he was wrongly ac­cused — and clear, all along, that we would prob­a­bly never know the truth.

Ka­vanaugh would have been able to see that. He there­fore should have re­sponded to Ford’s al­le­ga­tion by with­draw­ing from con­sid­er­a­tion for the na­tion’s high­est court. That sounds like a ridicu­lous sug­ges­tion, per­haps, but it’s not. With­draw­ing wouldn’t have been tan­ta­mount to an ad­mis­sion of guilt, and it wouldn’t have set a dan­ger­ous prece­dent. It would have been a small

sac­ri­fice on Ka­vanaugh’s part in the ser­vice of the greater good.

In­stead, the en­tire na­tion has been sub­jected to a grue­some, pro­tracted and en­tirely pre­dictable de­ba­cle.

Out­weigh­ing the bad

It was a safe bet that Ka­vanaugh would be con­firmed, Ford’s al­le­ga­tion not­with­stand­ing. Re­pub­li­cans con­trol the Se­nate. And Re­pub­li­cans, col­lec­tively, think men should be for­given for sex­ual as­sault — as long as they’re Re­pub­li­cans.

Re­pub­li­can lead­ers wouldn’t put it that bluntly, ob­vi­ously. But from their per­spec­tive, such of­fenses ought to be weighed against the hy­po­thet­i­cal of­fenses that would be fa­cil­i­tated, or at least con­doned, by Demo­cratic pol­icy. The lat­ter in­clude abor­tion, which as a med­i­cal pro­ce­dure that ends a hu­man life might be char­ac­ter­ized as mur­der — a more se­ri­ous crime than rape.

That’s why most Re­pub­li­cans stood by Don­ald Trump, even af­ter the “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” tape was leaked. That’s why most Re­pub­li­cans stood by Roy Moore even af­ter he was ac­cused of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing teenagers dur­ing last year’s spe­cial elec­tion for one of Alabama’s seats in the U.S. Se­nate. Such de­ci­sions aren’t ac­tu­ally il­log­i­cal, if you share the pro-life move­ment’s premises — if you be­lieve that abor­tion is mur­der, and that re­stric­tions on ac­cess to the pro­ce­dure will re­sult in a lower abor­tion rate.

The lat­ter premise, in­ci­den­tally, is ac­tu­ally at odds with the ev­i­dence. Amer­ica’s abor­tion rate peaked in the early 1990s and dropped to a his­toric low in 2014, while a pro­choice Demo­crat, Barack Obama, was pres­i­dent. More­over, Obama de­serves some credit for that be­cause of his role in pass­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act, which ex­panded ac­cess to con­tra­cep­tion.

Des­tined for fail­ure

For Re­pub­li­cans, it didn’t nec­es­sar­ily mat­ter whether Ford was telling the truth about what hap­pened at that gath­er­ing in 1982.

Even if she had some­how been able to sub­stan­ti­ate her ac­count, she would have had to con­vince the Se­nate that such an as­sault should dis­qual­ify Ka­vanaugh from be­ing con­firmed to the Supreme Court — even though he was a teenager, at the time, too; even though he was drunk; even though he went on to have a bril­liant ca­reer as a judge, af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Yale Law School; even though he seems to be a de­voted hus­band and fa­ther, who coaches girls’ bas­ket­ball.

Real­is­ti­cally, Ford was never go­ing to pre­vail. And iron­i­cally, what she ac­cused Ka­vanaugh of do­ing in 1982 is some­thing that a man could be for­given for, I think. He was a teenager. He was drunk, by Ford’s ac­count. And — at the risk of stat­ing the ob­vi­ous — Ka­vanaugh was raised in a so­ci­ety in which, even now, sex­ual as­sault isn’t nec­es­sar­ily seen as a big deal, or taken as se­ri­ously as the the­o­ret­i­cal risk that a man might be wrongly ac­cused of com­mit­ting it. None of that is an ex­cuse for the be­hav­ior Ford de­scribed in her tes­ti­mony to the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. But it does put such be­hav­ior in con­text and re­mind us of the pos­si­bil­ity that a mi­nor who com­mit­ted such an as­sault might have ma­tured and evolved.

‘Char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion’

And although we’ll never know whether Ka­vanaugh as­saulted Ford in 1982, we do know what he’s like as an adult. He’s the kind of guy who pri­or­i­tizes his per­sonal am­bi­tion over the well­be­ing of the coun­try and the le­git­i­macy of our in­sti­tu­tions, ap­par­ently. In fact, in ad­di­tion to cat­e­gor­i­cally deny­ing Ford’s al­le­ga­tion, Ka­vanaugh cast its im­pli­ca­tions for his per­sonal am­bi­tions as a mat­ter that should con­cern all of us.

“Such grotesque and ob­vi­ous char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion — if al­lowed to suc­ceed — will dis­suade com­pe­tent and good peo­ple of all po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sions from serv­ing our coun­try,” he said in his open­ing state­ment to the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, af­ter Ford gave her tes­ti­mony.

Trump lit­er­ally has a list of 20 con­ser­va­tive ju­rists who are just as qual­i­fied as Ka­vanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court, and I sus­pect some of them would have been will­ing to serve, had he de­cided to put the coun­try first.

Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images

The Se­nate con­firmed Brett Ka­vanaugh with a 50-48 vote Sat­ur­day.

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