By SABINA IDRIZ
Republican Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on Oct. 6, after a 50 to 48 confirmation vote amongst senators. Kavanaugh, a Yale Law School graduate, has previously been a United States Circuit Judge, White House Staff Secretary and staff lawyer for numerous government offices. He was nominated by President Donald Trump to take over for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
“I feel even though Kavanaugh is undoubtedly conservative, he’s not over the edge where he’s going to bring a more radical viewpoint to the court, so I’m pleased [with the confirmation],” said Brady Silas, a first-year student.
The nomination process for Kavanaugh was embroiled with controversy. His initial confirmation hearings were held from Sept. 4-7. By the second day of hearings, at least 146 protestors were arrested.
“I think anyone Trump would’ve picked would’ve drawn a lot of protestors with the current state of where we are with parties in this country,” Silas said. “Pretty much anything he does, the left is going to be outraged against.”
At the beginning of the hearings, many Democrats were unhappy that documents of Kavanaugh’s records during the Bush administration were being withheld. The Democrats also stated they were given insufficient time to review the 42,000 pages released the night before the first hearing. Some Democrats made motions to adjourn the hearings due to the lack of documents but were overruled by Judiciary Committee Chairman and Senator for Iowa Chuck Grassley.
The possibility of Kavanaugh being the final push needed for the Supreme Court to overturn the decision of Roe v. Wade, a landmark abortion case, has been a concern of many. Kavanaugh has ruled for abortion restrictions previously in at least one case. In Azar v. Garza, he joined an opinion that the Office of Refugee Settlement could temporarily prevent an unaccompanied immigrant minor from traveling to receive an abortion.
A 2003 email was also released in which Kavanaugh stated, “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to [Roe v. Wade] as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent.” He faced many questions related to abortion in the initial hearings and declined to expound on his current views relating to the precedent of the case.
“I’m a woman living in America,” said Madeleine Leigh, a first-year student. “Kavanaugh has the control over laws like Roe v. Wade which help govern what I decide to do with my body on a personal level. I kept joking with my friends over the summer that if they overturned it, I would move to Ireland … It’s really scary.”
The Judiciary Committee vote was originally scheduled to happen on Sept. 20 but was pushed back eight days as a result of sexual assault allegations that had come out against Kavanaugh. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford initially contacted her senator in June when Kavanaugh’s name was on a list of potential nominees for the Supreme Court. She stated that at a party 30 years ago, Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. She recalled his friend Mark Judge as being in the same room and witnessing the incident and named others who were at the party. None of the party participants stated that they recalled the incident, but allegations from two more women — Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick — came out afterward.
“I agreed with Trump’s nomination once it first came out in the sense that while I hated Kavanaugh and everything he stood for, he was a qualified conservative candidate,” Leigh said. “Now that these allegations have come out, I don’t agree with any of it. I think that they should’ve done a better job doing a background check, if they really interviewed enough people to get a sense of his character, this would’ve come out earlier … These kinds of allegations, they’re situations that a lot of women have to deal with, so it becomes incredibly personal for a lot of people in this country and that makes it an even more divisive topic.”
Ford was called to testify regarding these accusations and stated that she was 100 percent sure Kavanaugh was her attacker. When it was his turn to testify, he said he was certain he did not attack her.
“A lot of this comes down to he said, she said,” Leigh said. “While there are ways to try and corroborate her story, it’s really hard which is another reason why this is so divisive. There are people who are going to be in support of her no matter what, and there are people who’ll say she’s a liar no matter what.”
The Supreme Court previously saw sexual assault allegations come out against a potential Associate Justice in 1991. Anita Hill, now an attorney and professor, testified after an FBI report of an interview with her was leaked that nominee Clarence Thomas raped her. Thomas was confirmed to the Court and is still serving as an Associate Justice.
Hill stated on Oct. 10 that the Kavanaugh hearings were “a disservice to the American public.”
The FBI conducted a week-long investigation into these allegations. This investigation received criticism for appearing limited. The FBI did not interview some individuals who told the media they held pertinent information.
“I think trying to establish a clear sense of what the goals of an investigation were, what the goals of a testimony were, what the process was,” said Erika Iverson, a visiting law, politics and society professor. “I think both sides could’ve done that better, in a way that would help us understand what they were seeking to achieve rather than simply undermining one another. I think actually looking at the process Drake has in place through the Title IX office is a really good way to set up expectations for what we think an investigation should look like and what a process should seek to achieve.”
Drake and the Title IX office have policies and procedures in place for any sexual harassment or assault allegations. The Code of Student Conduct explains the investigatory and resolution process and states that an investigation will typically be resolved within 60 days.
The issue of Kavanaugh’s nomination has been polarizing between parties. “The Republicans were never going to vote against him because this is a totally partisan thing,” Leigh said. “They want a conservative on the bench and it doesn’t matter which conservative it is, as long as they’re passing the litmus tests on abortion, gun rights and so on.”
Iverson encourages students to engage themselves in issues like this.“Your entire working career, he will be on the court helping to make decisions that impact your lives and the lives of your children, your communities and your parents,” Iverson said. “This is not the only way in which politics or the law impacts our lives, but it’s a way that matters. How we engage in this kind of argument or discussion also governs how we interact moving forward.”
“I think part of the gift of liberal arts colleges and college classrooms is that we get to practice having hard conversations in ways we don’t always see evident in politics and by those who we expect to have some practice … I think the college classroom in discussing these hard issues in a space where we’re allowed to both make mistakes and learn what we think is really important,” Iverson said.
It remains to be seen how this confirmation and the divisiveness of it will affect the upcoming midterm elections. Political analysts are making varied predictions, so unless there are unforeseen circumstances, Kavanaugh will remain serving his lifetime term on the Supreme Court of the United States.
“You can dislike our president or Congress,” Salis said. “That is able to change within four or six years, but when you put Justices on the Supreme Court, you’re putting them there for life and at the end of the day, they have final say over what the law means and how to interpret it. I think students should be incredibly involved or know these situations mean more than the next election cycle or what’s going to happen in the next presidential election.”