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Brett Kavanaugh's Confirmation Is a Blow to the #MeToo Movement

The conservative judge's confirmation was nearly derailed by allegations of sexual misconduct and partisanship. His confirmation highlights the limits of the #MeToo movement.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 6th, 2018.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 6th, 2018.

Senators voted Saturday to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court by a narrow 50–48 vote.

Kavanaugh's confirmation was nearly derailed by allegations of sexual assault, dishonesty, and partisanship, all of which led to a bitter debate about his suitability for the nation's highest court that served to widen the partisan gulf in the Senate. Senate Republicans, who were reassured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's report on its rapid investigation into allegations from psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford that the judge assaulted her in high school, criticized Democrats for waging a "campaign of destruction" against the judge. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats called the investigation a sham.

Thousands of protesters descended on Capitol Hill this week as a last stand against a potential Justice Kavanaugh, chanting "Whose court? Our court!" and "We believe survivors." The judge's confirmation highlights the limits of the #MeToo movement, launched by a tweet in the wake of a New York Times investigation of dozens of allegations of sexual assault against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

One year to the day that the Times published its investigation, Kavanaugh narrowly cleared a procedural vote on Friday when Senators voted 51–49 to cut off the debate on his nomination and move to a final vote. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was the only Republican to vote no on moving his nomination forward, nearly forcing Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote, until Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), facing a tight race this November, voted yes.

Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), who forced Republicans to ask the White House for an FBI investigation of Ford's allegations after her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, announced Friday that he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh. But it wasn't clear Republicans had the votes they needed to confirm the judge until Friday afternoon. Just after senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) said Friday on the Senate floor that Kavanaugh's confirmation would send a "hostile" message to sexual assault survivors that "the senate does not take allegations of sexual assault seriously," Susan Collins (R-Maine) took to the floor to announce she was a yes.

In a lengthy speech, Collins defended Kavanaugh's judicial record, and while she found Ford's testimony sincere and compelling, she called another woman's allegations against the judge "outlandish."

"The confirmation process is not a trial, but certain legal principles about due process—the presumption of innocence and fairness—do bear on my thinking and I cannot abandon them," Collins said. Following her statement, Manchin issued a statement announcing that he too would vote yes.

The controversial confirmation process was re-traumatizing for sexual assault survivors who were reminded of their own painful experiences while watching both Ford's testimony before the Senate and Kavanaugh's, in which the judge vehemently denied the accusations in an emotional display that included several sharp comments directed at Democratic senators. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which runs the National Sexual Assault Hotline, reported a 201 percent spike in calls following the hearing, and "unprecedented wait times" on its online chat. His confirmation to the nation's highest court, where the judge will have the privilege of weighing in on cases that with a direct bearing on women's rights and bodily autonomy, is just as gut wrenching for many women.

The conservative Kavanaugh replaces the retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's former swing vote, pushing the ideological balance of the Supreme Court to the right for a generation.