Nearly three decades after the nation sat mesmerized by televised hearings into sexual harassment allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, a Senate committee publicly will delve into the sexual assault accusation against high court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
The extraordinary public hearing into the claims—brought by Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist at Palo Alto University—is scheduled to occur Sept. 24.
Ford’s sexual assault claims have roiled the confirmation process, testing the power of the #MeToo movement and casting some doubt on whether Kavanaugh will be confirmed. The White House said in a statement Monday evening: “Judge Kavanaugh looks forward to a hearing where he can clear his name of this false allegation. He stands ready to testify tomorrow if the Senate is ready to hear him.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said late Monday, “Anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has done deserves to be heard. My staff has reached out to Dr. Ford to hear her account, and they held a follow-up call with Judge Kavanaugh this afternoon. Unfortunately, committee Democrats have refused to join us in this effort. However, to provide ample transparency, we will hold a public hearing Monday to give these recent allegations a full airing,” Grassley said.
Kavanaugh earlier Monday denied the claims that he assaulted Ford years ago when they were high school students in suburban Washington.
“This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone,” Kavanaugh, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, said. “Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday.”
Ford also has agreed to appear before the committee, according to her lawyer, Debra Katz of Washington’s Katz, Marshall & Banks. Kavanaugh reportedly has retained veteran trial litigator Beth Wilkinson of Washington’s Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz.
“My client will do whatever is necessary to make sure that the Senate Judiciary Committee has the full story and the full set of allegations to allow them to make a fully informed decision,” Katz said on the news program “CBS This Morning.” “She’s willing to do what she needs to do. She’s willing, hopefully, to tell her story in a manner that is a fair proceeding.”
Kavanaugh’s denial and Ford’s public allegation creates a confrontation eerily similar to the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill faceoff in 1991. Thomas, at his hearing, spoke before Hill.
Reacting to Hill’s sexual harassment claims, Thomas said at the time: “I deny each and every single allegation against me today that suggested in any way that I had conversations of a sexual nature or about pornographic material with Anita Hill, that I ever attempted to date her, that I ever had any personal sexual interest in her, or that I in any way ever harassed her.”
Thomas was later confirmed by a vote of 52-48, the narrowest margin in more than a century. He was accused again of inappropriate conduct in 2016 by an Alaskan lawyer who, as The National Law Journal reported, alleged he groped her in 1999 when she was a 23-year-old Truman Foundation scholar. Thomas called the claim “preposterous” and said it “never happened.”
Grassley faced snowballing calls from members on both sides of the aisle and outside interest groups to investigate the allegation against Kavanaugh. Ford revealed in a Sunday Washington Post report that she was the victim of the alleged attempted sexual assault by Kavanaugh when both were high school students in 1982.
In the report, Ford claimed Kavanaugh and a friend, both “stumbling drunk,” locked her in a bedroom in a home in Montgomery Country during the party. Kavanaugh, 17 at the time, allegedly pushed Ford onto a bed, pinning her with his weight and tried to undo her clothes. Ford also alleged Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand to prevent her from screaming, according to the Post report. She said she subsequently escaped and went home.
Ford reportedly produced for the Post some of her therapist’s notes from 2012, when she said she discussed the alleged assault, but she did not name Kavanaugh. Katz, her lawyer, said Ford passed a recent polygraph test by a former FBI agent.
Even before the sexual misconduct accusation surfaced, the impact of the #MeToo movement was evident during the events of Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation. Kavanaugh, accepting President Donald Trump’s nomination in July, spoke about the role women have played in his life, and he touted his efforts to promote women in the judiciary through his clerk-hiring.
At Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, pressed Kavanaugh about whether he had engaged in any sexual misconduct as a legal adult. Kavanaugh said he had not. He also said he had not faced any discipline or agreed to any settlement related to sexual misconduct.
“I started asking these questions about sexual harassment because it’s so hard to hold lifetime appointees to the federal bench accountable and because I did not want the Me Too movement to be swept under the rug,” Hirono wrote.
The stakes in the nomination were already extremely high because President Donald Trump tapped Kavanaugh to succeed retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Since 2006, Kennedy has been the critical fifth vote in a host of contentious cases, such as affirmative action, abortion, death penalty, church-state separation, and LGBT rights.
The nomination has triggered two major points of opposition: from abortion rights and gay and lesbian rights groups who view Kavanaugh’s judicial record as hostile to their interests and from other opponents who question what they claimed was his broad embrace of executive power.
Tony Mauro contributed to this report.