The Ka­vanaugh con­tro­versy hit close to home

Kuwait Times - - Analysis - By Dr James J Zogby

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s nom­i­na­tion of Brett Ka­vanaugh to the Supreme Court ex­ac­er­bated our na­tion’s deep par­ti­san di­vide. It has also pro­foundly af­fected my neigh­bor­hood and my church. My fam­ily has lived in North­west Wash­ing­ton, DC for al­most four decades. Dur­ing all this time, we have gone to the Catholic church that’s a few blocks from our home. My five chil­dren at­tended the neigh­bor­hood Catholic school, where for 17 years, I coached bas­ket­ball. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, all five went to three dif­fer­ent lo­cal Catholic high schools.

The el­e­men­tary school from which my chil­dren grad­u­ated is the same school that Ka­vanaugh’s chil­dren now at­tend and where he coaches bas­ket­ball. We go to the same church. And the high school he at­tended is the same school where my old­est son went for four years. With this much in com­mon, you might think that my neigh­bor­hood, my church, and I would be over­joyed that “one of ours” will be an As­so­ci­ate Jus­tice of the Supreme Court. To the con­trary, I am dis­traught and my church and neigh­bor­hood are deeply di­vided.

De­spite be­ing an up­per mid­dle class white com­mu­nity, my neigh­bor­hood is largely lib­eral and votes Demo­cratic (Hil­lary Clin­ton won an over­whelm­ingly ma­jor­ity in this area). There are, of course, some prom­i­nent Repub­li­cans and con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal fig­ures who live in the area and who go to our church, but they are a dis­tinct mi­nor­ity.

When Ka­vanaugh was first nom­i­nated, the lo­cal re­ac­tion was mixed. There were those who rushed to sup­port him out of loy­alty be­cause he had long been a part of their cir­cle of friends, or be­cause they were sim­ply over­come by the prospect of one of their neigh­bors be­ing on the high­est court in the US. Oth­ers did so be­cause their daugh­ters were on one of the teams he coached and they knew him to be a “nice man”.

There were, of course, some, not many, who looked for­ward to see­ing Ka­vanaugh on the court be­cause they agreed with his phi­los­o­phy. On the range of is­sues, both so­cial and po­lit­i­cal, ex­pected to come be­fore the court, most of my neigh­bors are on the op­pos­ing side of Ka­vanaugh and the pres­i­dent who ap­pointed him.

The Supreme Court Jus­tice that Ka­vanaugh is re­plac­ing, though not a lib­eral, on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions, pro­vided a bal­anc­ing vote that kept the court some­what cen­tered. Ka­vanaugh, on the other hand, is a par­ti­san Repub­li­can. He was part of the team that worked to im­peach Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton. He served as a close aide to Pres­i­dent George W. Bush and had been hand-picked for this ap­point­ment by the hard­line con­ser­va­tive Fed­er­al­ist So­ci­ety.

We fully ex­pected that the de­bate over his nom­i­na­tion would fo­cus on par­ti­san di­vide over is­sues like: health care re­form, women’s rights, vot­ing rights, and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. But by the time Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee were to be­gin an­other set of con­cerns came to the fore. The Democrats on the com­mit­tee had asked to re­view all of the nom­i­nee’s of­fi­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion dur­ing his time in the Bush White House. In re­sponse, the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship of the Se­nate re­fused to re­lease 90 per­cent of this ma­te­rial.

Nev­er­the­less, from the emails and other cor­re­spon­dence that were made avail­able, it be­came clear that Ka­vanaugh had lied un­der oath dur­ing an ear­lier se­nate hear­ing. From the record, it ap­peared that he lied about his in­volve­ment and aware­ness of: Repub­li­can theft of Se­nate Demo­cratic staff emails, NSA war­rant­less wire­taps, and the treat­ment of pris­on­ers in Guan­tanamo. These mat­ters were of con­cern to the Democrats, as were the miss­ing 90% of his cor­re­spon­dence. They asked “what else is he try­ing to hide and should some­one who has lied un­der oath sit on the Supreme Court?”

This was where the mat­ter stood un­til the pub­lic dis­clo­sure of al­le­ga­tions by a Dr Chris­tine Blasey Ford, who in a sworn af­fi­davit stated that while in high school she had been sex­u­ally as­saulted by a drunken Ka­vanaugh. What fol­lowed were more al­le­ga­tions of ex­ces­sive drink­ing and other in­stances of de­grad­ing or sex­u­ally ag­gres­sive be­hav­ior to­ward women while he was in col­lege and law school. These new charges ex­posed two re­lated and deeply felt griev­ances that vir­tu­ally ex­ploded into the pub­lic con­scious­ness, both of which also played out in my neigh­bor­hood.

Much has al­ready been writ­ten about the pain of sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault who were prompted to come for­ward af­ter Dr Ford told her story. Many women, whether or not they had been di­rect vic­tims of as­sault, were pro­foundly af­fected by and could re­late to her pain and her vul­ner­a­bil­ity. Dr Ford’s courage in re­veal­ing her long-sup­pressed story em­pow­ered them to tell their sto­ries, and then the way Ford was treated by the Repub­li­cans and de­meaned by Trump was like putting salt on their open wounds, stok­ing jus­ti­fi­able out­rage. All of this anger also res­onated in North­west Wash­ing­ton. But there was an­other more sub­tle yet still deeply un­set­tling di­men­sion to this drama that played out here.

NOTE: Dr James J Zogby is the Pres­i­dent of the Arab Amer­i­can In­sti­tute

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