Sex and pol­i­tics in the U.S.

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL & WORLD NEWS -

Sex and pol­i­tics in­ter­sected in an ex­plo­sive con­tro­versy that has gripped the United States as Pro­fes­sor Chris­tine Blasey Ford gave ev­i­dence last Thurs­day to the United States Se­nate about a sex­ual as­sault per­pe­trated against her in the sum­mer of 1982 by Judge Brett Ka­vanaugh, Pres­i­dent Trump’s nom­i­nee to re­place Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy, on the US Supreme Court.

The Repub­li­can-con­trolled Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee of the US Se­nate ini­tially re­fused to hear Pro­fes­sor Blasey Ford. How­ever, pub­lic pres­sure forced the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee to re­open the hear­ing.

Po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions dom­i­nate the ap­point­ment of judges in the United States. This is of in­es­timable value to po­lit­i­cal par­ties gen­er­ally but moreso with re­spect to the U.S. Supreme Court, which stands at the pin­na­cle of one of the ju­di­cial branches of gov­ern­ment. A lib­eral or con­ser­va­tive jus­tice helps to shape the con­sti­tu­tional di­rec­tion of the U.S. into a lib­eral or con­ser­va­tive path. A ma­jor­ity of judges of one or the other per­sua­sion is a much-sought af­ter po­lit­i­cal prize. The ap­point­ment of Judge Brett Ka­vanaugh will en­sure a per­ma­nent con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity on the U.S. Supreme Court for decades into the fu­ture. It is this prospect, and the fear that women will lose the right of choice over their re­pro­duc­tive sta­tus, that has driven the mag­ni­tude of the con­tro­versy over the nom­i­na­tion of Judge Ka­vanaugh.

The nom­i­na­tion has taken place at a time of en­hanced strug­gle by women in the United States against sex­ual vi­o­lence and for the dig­nity of women. Dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign, Don­ald Trump was ac­cused of mul­ti­ple acts of sex­ual as­saults against women. He also promised to ap­point judges who will over­turn Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court de­ci­sion, which gave con­sti­tu­tional pro­tec­tion to the right of women to choose. His elec­tion prompted the Women’s March on Jan­u­ary 21, 2017, the largest in U.S. his­tory and which had a wide range of de­mands for civil rights, in­clud­ing women’s rights. The #MeToo move­ment against sex­ual ha­rass­ment and sex­ual as­sault also emerged in Oc­to­ber 2017 af­ter ac­cu­sa­tions against Har­vey We­in­stein, the U.S. movie mogul, were made by scores of women of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault. Long stand­ing com­plaints against co­me­dian, Bill Cosby, gained promi­nence in Oc­to­ber, 2014. He was charged, con­victed and im­pris­oned last week. The Cosby case also helped to gal­va­nize the #MeToo move­ment.

Pro­fes­sor Chris­tine Blasey Ford’s ev­i­dence be­fore the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee of the U.S. Se­nate was widely de­scribed, across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, in­clud­ing by Pres­i­dent Trump, as be­ing com­pelling and cred­i­ble. Her de­meanour was praised. Much of the re­spect­ful treat­ment of Pro­fes­sor Blasey Ford re­flected the rise of the women’s move­ment and the dis­as­trous Se­nate hear­ings into the nom­i­na­tion of Clarence Thomas in 1991. Anita Hill, a law pro­fes­sor, who gave ev­i­dence of sex­ual ha­rass­ment by Thomas, was ridiculed and dis­be­lieved, in­clud­ing by Democrats and has since been widely crit­i­cised and con­demned. The prob­lem, how­ever, is that the cred­i­bil­ity of Pro­fes­sor Blasey Ford did not lead to the ac­cep­tance of her ev­i­dence by Repub­li­cans. They even re­fused to ac­cept the unan­i­mous re­quest of Democrats for an FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Pro­fes­sor Blasey Ford’s ev­i­dence did not quite reach the thresh­old of proof beyond rea­son­able doubt. She could not re­call im­por­tant de­tails such as the date of the as­sault, the ad­dress of the house in which the as­sault took place, how she got home af­ter the as­sault and oth­ers. But as many ob­servers have pointed out, the event took place 36 years ago and the com­plaint is not a crim­i­nal

Tcharge re­quir­ing such a stan­dard of proof. Pro­fes­sor Blasey Ford said that her civic duty was to put her ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore the U.S. Se­nate so as to en­able it to make a de­ci­sion on Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion, de­scribed by many ob­servers as a job ap­pli­ca­tion. The is­sue was recog­nised as Ka­vanaugh’s cred­i­bil­ity, char­ac­ter and suit­abil­ity for ap­point­ment as an As­so­ciate Jus­tice.

In an an­gry, in­tem­per­ate and some­times tear­ful, re­sponse in the Ju­di­cial Com­mit­tee, Judge Ka­vanaugh at­tacked the Demo­cratic Party, ac­cused it of launch­ing a hit job and was rude to in­di­vid­ual Sen­a­tors. He de­nied as­sault­ing Pro­fes­sor Blasey Ford and said that he was not at the event. He ad­mit­ted to drink­ing beer, some­times to ex­cess, but de­nied that he was ever so drunk that he could not re­mem­ber what he was do­ing, a claim con­tra­dicted by his room­mate and other friends who de­scribed him in scathing terms as “drunk.” He pointed to the sev­eral per­sons who said that they could not re­mem­ber the event but mis­char­ac­ter­ized their re­sponses as de­nials that the as­sault took place. He dis­closed his cal­en­dar di­ary to prove that the event was not men­tioned but which in fact in­di­cate that it could have oc­curred. His year­book con­tains a ref­er­ence to him­self as “Re­nate Alum­nius,” a deroga­tory ref­er­ence to a young woman. The par­ti­san di­a­tribe and rude­ness to Demo­cratic Sen­a­tors has raised the ques­tion of Judge Ka­vanaugh’s fit­ness to be a judge he nom­i­na­tion process came to an abrupt halt when Repub­li­can Se­na­tor, Jeff Flake, whose sup­port­ing vote is vi­tal in a Se­nate split 51 to 49, in­di­cated af­ter a pas­sion­ate ap­peal by women vic­tims, which was widely tele­vised, and pub­lic opin­ion gen­er­ally, that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the FBI into the al­le­ga­tions made against Judge Ka­vanaugh was nec­es­sary.

This col­umn is re­pro­duced, with per­mis­sion, from Ralph Ramkar­ran’s blog, www.con­ver­sa­tion­tree.gy

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