Innocent Until Proven Guilty: Should We Proceed With Brett Kavanaugh’s Nomination?
On September 28, 2018, your regularly scheduled programming was interrupted by coverage of the world’s most talked about ‘second-look’ interview. This was, of course, the hearing held by the United States Senate Judiciary Committee regarding Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. Many were originally skeptical of the pick, citing distrust in the President’s previous choices when selecting board and cabinet members and Kavanaugh’s own voting record, but these sentiments were further fueled by recent sexual assault allegations made against him. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University and a name that will one day be emblazoned in the pages of history books, was one of three individuals who had come forward with allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. She was asked to testify before the committee twenty four hours prior to a vote that could advance the nomination forward.
As someone who works in the mental health field, I have witnessed the amount of courage it takes for someone to pick up the phone and seek assistance, to admit their illness or trauma. To have it feel real. It is difficult to do when the conversation is kept private between yourself and the office administrator aiding in scheduling your appointment and again, when you finally sit down with your clinician. It can take years to process what had happened and recovery is very rarely a straight line, as your progress can waver day-to-day depending on any number of factors. Now imagine needing to do that in a crowded room, with cameras and microphones pointed in your direction. Where you need to argue that the event happened and answer question after question that pokes at the validity of your worst traumatic experience.
Through the course of the hearing, we are continuously reminded that Dr. Ford isn’t on trial, but the rhetoric and mannerisms of those questioning her and criticizing her performance sure makes it feel that way.
This is what Dr. Ford was asked to do. And while different members of the committee offered their support and commended her bravery in coming forward, it was clear that this was not easy. Senator Cory Booker (D – New Jersey) talks about how her “life has been upended” after these allegations had come out, how she has “received viscous, hateful threats, death threats”, and needed to “move out of her family home” and “engage security” to ensure the safety of herself and her family. Dr. Ford also mentioned how reporters had come by her home and places of work for information, further expressing how the hearing proceedings had disrupted her day-to-day private life. To which Senator Booker argued that it wasn’t for naught, that her actions were nothing short of heroic. “What you are doing for our nation right now…you are speaking truth that this country needs to understand. And how we deal with survivors who come forward right now is unacceptable. And the way we deal with this unfortunately allows for the continued darkness of this culture to exist.” And this moment, her testimony, feels historic, like it could have the opportunity to change how we talk about and manage sexual assault cases in the future, for better or worse.
Through the course of the hearing, we are continuously reminded that Dr. Ford isn’t on trial, but the rhetoric and mannerisms of those questioning her and criticizing her performance sure makes it feel that way. The arguments across my Facebook homepage at the moment are how our justice system is founded on the belief that every individual is innocent until proven guilty – and while that may be true, this isn’t a criminal investigation. It’s a job interview, a public hearing on whether or not someone ought to be promoted in their line of work. For a lifetime appointment that will allow Judge Kavanaugh the opportunity to make decisions that will impact women for decades to come.
If we picture the United States as a corporation (this is a TED talk for a different day), think of Brett Kavanaugh as someone applying to be an HR manager at this organization. Human Resources is a department that is trusted to deal with cases pertaining to discrimination, workplace harassment, and inclusivity, for implementing policies that reflect changes within the company, where the individuals are hired because they reflect the values of the organization and will work to have the employees’ best interests at heart. Now picture Brett Kavanaugh as someone who has thrown their hat in the ring for a position in HR; stellar resume, meets the necessary requirements, might’ve even done well in the initial interview, but you’ve received some troubling insight when calling his references. On multiple accounts, this man has been accused of inappropriate behavior, harassment, and sexual assault. Even if the allegations are false, the different accusations would typically be enough to at least consider other candidates in the applicant pool who had similar qualifications.
Your expectations for how a business is run and how the American government functions should be different in that we should have higher standards for the individuals we nominate for public office.
Because this is not a criminal investigation, Judge Kavanaugh does not need to be proven guilty. This is a job interview and organizations often don’t gamble when taking on new hires. So why is it so easy for members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to do that when it comes to being appointed to the Supreme Court, a lifetime appointment that has the opportunity to create great change or dismantle rulings that uphold our country’s values? Or is it that we don’t hold our Supreme Court nominees to the same basic standards that we would our HR Managers? People will argue that our country is not a business (again, a discussion for a different day), that they’re incomparable, and they should be. Your expectations for how a business is run and how the American government functions should be different in that we should have higher standards for the individuals we nominate for public office.
In a business, the likelihood of Brett Kavanaugh progressing further would be slim – whether unjustly or otherwise, as it would be too much of a liability for the organization. At the very least, it would require further investigation if the company was still hoping to take him on – something many are opposed to despite the sincerity of Dr. Ford’s testimony. If we are going to argue that Brett Kavanaugh is innocent until proven guilty, then we should also take the necessary steps to prove his innocence.
And it is worth considering then that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is also innocent – honest and credible – unless proven otherwise.
We understand that the coverage of these hearings can be triggering for many survivors of sexual assault and are sending our support to everyone affected. We see you, we hear you, and we believe you. If you need someone to talk to today, please dial 1-800-656-HOPE or contact one of the other support lines listed below:
Support Lines for Muslim Mental Health:
Naseeha (North America): 1-866-627-3342
Institute for Muslim Mental Health (North America): 1-800-273-8255
Amala Muslim Youth Hope Line (U.S.): 1-855-952-6252
Khalil Center (U.S.): 1-855-543-5752