We believe Christine Blasey Ford. We expect most Americans who watched her testimony do too. She appeared genuine, sincere and vulnerable in her recollection of the night in the early 1980s when she says Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, then a drunken teenager, forced himself on her at a party, pushed her down onto a bed, groped her and tried to take off her clothes. We would be surprised if even the most hardened, cynical, partisan members of the Senate Republican caucus don’t at least harbor substantial doubts about Judge Kavanaugh’s denials, no matter how forcefully he delivered them.
Much of what went on today is irrelevant. The arguments back and forth between the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about how Ms. Ford’s initial letter to Sen. Diane Feinstein was handled, whether the committee offered to interview her in California or, for heaven’s sake, whether she is really afraid of flying was a distraction from the only issue that matters. The same is true of the second-guessing about Republicans’ decision to outsource questioning of Ms. Ford to a prosecutor rather than doing it themselves, and of, frankly, the vast majority of what the Democrats on the committee said, too. All that matters is whether her testimony, balanced against his, leaves a substantial concern that she is telling the truth and he is not.
Judge Kavanaugh was unequivocal in his denials. He was at turns angry and overwrought in presenting his defense, ranging from a discussion of statements provided by the others who were supposedly at the party Ms. Ford described to a dissection of his calendar from the summer of 1982. But his central contention, that the accusations that have surfaced against him, including Ms. Ford’s, are part of a “grotesque and coordinated character assassination” orchestrated by Democrats to deny him a place on the court — or even more fancifully, “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” — simply does not stand up to Ms. Ford’s straightforward and at times pained testimony about what she says happened in 1982 and what brought her to testify today.
We grant that the evidence on the record in this case is limited, and even a full FBI investigation, 36 years after the attack allegedly took place, might never settle the question sufficiently to meet the standard of a criminal trial. We cannot say that Mr. Kavanaugh is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, or anything close to it. That standard is the appropriate one for determining whether the state should take away a defendant’s liberty. It is not the appropriate standard for determining whether a nominee should be confirmed to the United States Supreme Court, or whether he should merely suffer the fate of serving as a federal appeals court judge. To have substantial doubts about the character of a nominee should be enough for the Senate to vote no.
Some have questioned whether, even if true, the allegations against Mr. Kavanaugh based on what he did as a 17-year-old should prevent his confirmation more than three decades later. We have no reason to suspect that today he is anything but the good husband and father he has presented himself to be. But there are many eminently qualified jurists about whose pasts there are no such questions.
We argued against Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation even before Ms. Ford’s allegations became public, not because he is conservative but because his hearings had been a farce that debased the Senate’s responsibility to provide advice and consent. What has occurred since — the failure of the Judiciary Committee to so much as subpoena Mark Judge, the other person Ms. Ford says was in the room, the plan to vote the morning after this hearing — has made matters worse. If Judge Kavanaugh will not withdraw, if President Donald Trump will not rescind his nomination, the Senate must vote no.
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