Pity Lady Justice; she’s had a rough couple of weeks. On “State of the Union” Sunday, CNN’s Jake Tapper tossed Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii what should have been a grapefruit: “Doesn’t Kavanaugh have the same presumption of innocence as anyone else in America?” Ms. Hirono responded: “I put his denial in the context of everything that I know about him in terms of how he approaches cases.” Conservative jurists in America have been put on notice: They are to forfeit their most basic rights as punishment for their judicial philosophy.
In the national circus that is the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, sexual assault is very much beside the point. Christine Blasey Ford claims that 36 years ago she suffered an attempt at the most terrifying act of brutality a woman can live through. But in the hands of Senate Democrats, this is one more bit of materiel flung at the other side. Ms. Ford is merely the expedient means to a desirable end.
I have no idea what if anything happened to Ms. Ford. (Is it necessary to say this?) I have no idea whether she is more credible than Leland Keyser, whom Ms. Ford places at the party, though Ms. Keyser has no memory of it and says she’s never met Brett Kavanaugh. Neither do any of the senators, including Dianne Feinstein, who learned of the accusation and withheld it from her Republican colleagues and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for six weeks, knowing as every good gunslinger must, that if you’ve only got one bullet left, you don’t let it go to waste.
Imagine if we treated murder this way. Imagine if a woman had written to Mrs. Feinstein alleging that the man who was about to be appointed to the Supreme Court had murdered her brother 36 years ago. What would we say of a senator who failed to turn this evidence over immediately to the authorities? That the question is so easily answered indicates how much less seriously we already take crimes of sexual violence.
Mrs. Feinstein was elected in 1992, the year after Justice Clarence Thomas’s appointment. When he was accused, we were told the woman is always right. Why else would Anita Hill have brought these claims? A few years later, when the accused was Bill Clinton, elite opinion cried we shouldn’t rush to believe the accuser. He was a good feminist—and Paula Jones, not nearly our sort of girl. In both cases, we knew that the point was not any of the accusations. It was to shelter powerful men with views we liked or punish men with views we didn’t.
Then came #MeToo. For a moment, it seemed everything might change. Public opinion was on the side, not of all women exactly, but of those women with credible, corroborated claims who were willing to name powerful men—even those men with the right political allegiances. In this light, Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein seemed more alike than different; they met the same disgrace not for their political beliefs but for behavior that Americans of every political stripe should want to stop. For the first time in years, even Bill Clinton seemed less a gift to women than a Trojan Horse.
But now we’re back to our cheap tricks, using sexual assault as a political ploy. If Judge Kavanaugh were liberal, Sen. Hirono makes clear, she would give him the benefit of the doubt. If he adjudicates like a conservative, that’s evidence of rape.
This is not a fair hearing. This is not any hearing at all. This is a series of political stunts calling itself “debate” over who should sit on the Supreme Court. Those who believe a sole witness’s inchoate recollection of a never-reported incident 36 years ago have every right to this instinct, but they cannot pretend to have seen sufficient evidence to adjudicate the matter. Not without corroboration or any pattern of similar acts by the accused. For those who are already convinced of Judge Kavanaugh’s guilt, it is enough to believe no politically conservative Catholic—“some frat boy named Brett”—as NARAL called him—should ever sit on the highest court of the land. Who but a monster would refuse to endorse the right to abortion? And isn’t that tantamount to violence against women? What other evidence do we really need?
Either we’re going to take sexual assault seriously because we’re interested in protecting women, or we’ll allow it to be transformed into merely the newest political weapon. If we choose the latter, we will have encouraged victims and witnesses of even the most heinous crimes to decline to report them for decades, waiting for the politically opportune moment. And we will have helped turn a grievous crime into a cheap register of public passion that flips like a weather vane at the next election.
Ms. Shrier is a writer living in Los Angeles.