FBI probe the right call for Supreme Court process


Sunday, September 30, 2018

The full U.S. Senate will have the final say on whether Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, becomes a justice on the court — but not before the FBI has a chance to investigate allegations of sexual assault leveled against the nominee.

The probe is a welcomed development for the confirmation process, the public’s interest and a way to bring the matter, though still highly contested, to a thorough conclusion.

The breakthrough came after members of the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to the condition offered by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who said he was willing to support a full Senate vote on the nomination if the FBI conducted an investigation of the current sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh. Trump also has agreed to call for the FBI probe. 

Though delayed from what some Republicans wanted, the final vote will be taken in a more credible context following an investigation — a step that seems even more justified now that Americans have heard from Kavanaugh’s main accuser.

The Senate committee voted to endorse Kavanaugh for a full Senate review on Friday, a day after hearing riveting testimony from California college professor Christine Blasey Ford. As most of the nation looked on, Ford's emotional testimony described in detail her sexual assault in 1982, when she was 15. She is “100 percent” certain, she told one senator, that her assailant was a drunken, laughing 17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh.

Later, in his testimony before the panel, Kavanaugh repeated his denial that he assaulted Ford or anyone else. He agreed that Ford is likely to have been assaulted, but declared emphatically he’s not the person who did it.

In fact, the general response to Ford's testimony — from Republicans, Democrats, and a host of expert observers — has been almost unanimous in the belief that Ford was the victim of a sexual assault. Her recall of the detail from the incident — and the psychological effects she experienced — are consistent with the trauma of sexual assault, observers agreed.

By agreeing to a hearing of Ford's public testimony and now the FBI probe, the Senate Judiciary Committee took the appropriate steps. Those actions reflect a chorus of sentiments from other institutions. In fact, following the hearing on Thursday, The American Bar Association called for an FBI investigation.

"The basic principles that underscore the Senate's constitutional duty of advise and consent on federal judicial nominees require nothing less than a careful examination of the accusations and facts by the FBI," ABA President Robert Carlson wrote in a letter to Senate committee members.

That was followed on Friday by a statement from Heather Gerken, dean of the Yale University Law School, where Kavanaugh got his law degree.

"I join the American Bar Association in calling for an additional investigation into allegations made against Judge Kavanaugh," she wrote.

Also on Thursday, an editorial in America magazine, a Jesuit publication, called for Kavanaugh's nomination to be withdrawn. Kavanaugh attended Georgetown Preparatory School, which bills itself as the country's only Jesuit boarding school. 

Many Republicans in the Senate who have supported the Kavanaugh nomination — but who also did not want Ford to testify — have tried to hasten his nomination toward a final vote. That haste now seems sorely unjustified. The lingering doubts and questions raised by Ford’s testimony would leave a simmering controversy over a member of the Supreme Court, whose lifetime appointment and potentially nation-guiding decisions will affect the next generation.

Getting it right, or at least taking all possible avenues to achieving that objective, is the best course. The confirmation of a U.S. Supreme Court justice is simply too important to ram through.

Also, our leaders should be looking for ways to assure the public that they are willing to do what is necessary to ensure the individual headed to such a crucial position merits the trust and support of the nation. We think by agreeing to Flake's condition, the Senate gets closer to that.

Granted, an FBI probe may not be able to confirm whether Ford or Kavanaugh has the more accurate memory. Left with that prospect, members of the Senate will have to proceed, voting on Kavanaugh's confirmation according to their individual conscience, party allegiance or by whatever motivations that guide service to their constituents. But at least they’ve now enabled the confirmation process to be complete and thorough.