Along their winding route from the federal courthouse in downtown Washington to the National Mall and, finally, to the U.S. Supreme Court, they chanted that they believed Christine Blasey Ford.
They carried handcrafted signs and red posters with “Kava” and “Nope” spelled out on black strips framing the face of Brett Kavanaugh. They chanted that they believed Anita Hill, the law professor whose sexual harassment claims against Justice Clarence Thomas have returned to the fore as Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, has denied Ford’s accusations that he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.
Moira Smith took a 12-hour flight from Alaska to share her story and to be among the hundreds of protestors who thundered in the streets of Washington against Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Two years ago, Smith, general counsel at an energy company in Alaska, spoke to the NLJ about a 1999 dinner party where Thomas, she claimed, squeezed and grabbed her buttocks. Thomas denied the allegation, which he described as “preposterous.”
Smith said Thursday it was both “heart-wrenching and hopeful” to come to Washington to join the rally and meet with her home-state senators—particularly one who could be key to Kavanaugh’s confirmation hopes, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
“My main reaction to this has been a feeling that they only get one chance to get this correct. There’s no revote,” Smith said in an interview. She added: “They got it wrong with Justice Thomas. And it is my wish that they will get it right this time.”
Kavanaugh’s confirmation, roiled by allegations of sexual misconduct, has drawn comparisons to Thomas’s proceedings in 1991. Each nominee appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to address claims of sexual misconduct. Thomas rejected claims he harassed Hill, and he called the hearing a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.” Kavanaugh vehemently denied sexually assaulting Ford at a house party in the 1980s in suburban Washington. He called the allegations “false last-minute smears,” and he described the confirmation process as a “circus,” using the same word Thomas chose.
“The biggest and most disappointing similarity is that, when a courageous victim came forward to speak her truth, she was attacked as a partisan,” Smith said, recalling Hill’s testimony during the Thomas confirmation proceedings. “I would say the difference is that the country has evolved in the last 30 years, and that is no longer acceptable to a large portion of our population.”
The U.S. Senate on Thursday was preparing for a procedural vote Friday and possible final vote this weekend. Senators reviewed the FBI’s report on a supplemental background investigation focused on Ford’s allegation along with a separate accusation that Kavanaugh exposed himself to a Yale classmate during a night of drinking his freshman year. Key Republican senators said nothing in the report raised concerns.
“There’s nothing in it that we didn’t already know,” Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement. “These uncorroborated accusations have been unequivocally and repeatedly rejected by Judge Kavanaugh, and neither the Judiciary Committee nor the FBI could locate any third parties who can attest to any of the allegations. ”
Kavanaugh’s hearing last week, where he accused Democrats of orchestrating a “political hit” against him, raised fresh questions about his judicial temperament. Retired Justice John Paul Stevens on Thursday said Kavanaugh’s performance changed his mind from supporting the nominee to thinking he was no longer qualified.
Smith was among 17 lawyers from Alaska who met with Murkowski on Thursday afternoon for about 45 minutes.
Smith said Murkowski listened respectfully as she recounted her interaction with Thomas at the dinner party in Virginia years ago. The group of lawyers, she said, focused on expressing concern about Kavanaugh’s judicial temperament, reading excerpts from the judicial canons “to point out where his behavior was not consistent with those canons.”
“We understand there being emotions. In that moment of emotion, Judge Kavanaugh engaged in partisan attacks. And that you cannot do,” Smith said.
Murkowski’s office did not immediately respond to the NLJ’s request for comment Thursday.
Smith said she also expressed concern that Kavanaugh’s confirmation would undermine the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.
Smith said she left the meeting with the sense that Murkowski was wrestling most with the question of Kavanaugh’s temperament and with the message his confirmation would send to survivors of sexual assault.
For Smith, Thursday’s meetings with Murkowski and her fellow Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan marked her first time lobbying Alaska’s congressional delegation.
“What happened with me and Justice Thomas was not half as serious as the allegations that have been made against Judge Kavanaugh,” she said, “and yet it’s still affected me for the rest of my life.”