With the way politics currently work, it is rare you see anything substantive on a grand stage that makes you sit up and take notice.
In a time of sloganeering and quick sound bytes, it seemed almost impossible that a dry and well-reasoned speech could break through and have any real impact.
I say almost impossible, because Susan Collins — the longtime senator from Maine — proved yesterday that it can indeed be done.
I have known Susan Collins for many years and have always found her to be incredibly gracious and honorable.
And the speech she gave yesterday on the senate floor made me so proud to know her and to have her as an elected representative at the federal level.
In a sea of hysteria, Senator Collins gave a 40 minute speech that was light on hyperbole and heavy on facts and substantive arguments.
The Senator began by showing how carefully she had considered this nomination, detailing the talks she had with opponents and supporters of Judge Kavanaugh, as well as conversations she had with Kavanaugh himself.
Then she gave a substantive defense of the Judge’s record as a 12 year veteran of the DC circuit court.
Judge Kavanaugh has been unequivocal in his belief that no president is above the law. He has stated that Marbury v. Madison, Youngstown Steel v. Sawyer and United States v. Nixon are three of the four greatest Supreme Court cases in history. What do they have in common? Each of them is a case where the Court served as a check on presidential power. And I would note that the fourth case that Judge Kavanaugh has pointed to as the greatest in history was Brown v Board of Education.
One Kavanaugh decision illustrates the point about the check on presidential power directly. He wrote the opinion in Hamdan v. United States, a case that challenged the Bush Administration’s military commission prosecution of an associate of Osama Bin Laden. This conviction was very important to the Bush Administration, but Judge Kavanaugh, who had been appointed to the DC Circuit by President Bush and had worked in President Bush’s White House, ruled that the conviction was unlawful. As he explained during the hearing, ‘We don’t make decisions based on who people are, or their policy preferences, or the moment. We base decisions on the law….’
She then pivoted to the fact that Kavanaugh is clearly qualified for the job, regardless of whether or not one agrees with his ideology.
Judge Kavanaugh has received rave reviews for his 12-year track record as a judge, including for his judicial temperament. The American Bar Association (ABA) gave him its highest possible rating. Its Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary conducted an extraordinarily thorough assessment, soliciting input from almost 500 people, including his judicial colleagues. The ABA concluded that “his integrity, judicial temperament, and professional competence met the highest standard.”
Lisa Blatt, who has argued more cases before the Supreme Court than any other woman in history, testified: “By any objective measure, Judge Kavanaugh is clearly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.” “His opinions are invariably thoughtful and fair….” Ms. Blatt, who clerked for and is an ardent admirer of Justice Ginsburg, and who is, in her own words, “an unapologetic defender of a woman’s right to choose,” said that Judge Kavanaugh “fit[s] in the mainstream of legal thought.” She also observed that “Judge Kavanaugh is remarkably committed to promoting women in the legal profession.”
Collins also emphasized that while she believes Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser — Dr. Ford — is a survivor of a sexual assault, the details surrounding her claim specifically as it pertains to Brett Kavanaugh are simply not enough to meet even the most basic evidentiary standard, and therefore, cannot be reasonably held against him.
I listened carefully to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Judiciary Committee. I found her testimony to be sincere, painful, and compelling. I believe that she is a survivor of a sexual assault and that this trauma has upended her life. Nevertheless, the four witnesses she named could not corroborate any of the events of that evening gathering where she says the assault occurred; none of the individuals Professor Ford says were at the party has any recollection at all of that night.
Judge Kavanaugh forcefully denied the allegations under penalty of perjury. Mark Judge denied under penalty of felony that he had witnessed an assault. PJ Smyth, another person allegedly at the party, denied that he was there under penalty of felony. Professor Ford’s life-long friend Leland Keyser indicated that, under penalty of felony, she does not remember that party. And Ms. Keyser went further. She indicated that not only does she not remember a night like that, but also that she does not even know Brett Kavanaugh.
In addition to the lack of corroborating evidence, we also learned some facts that raised more questions. For instance, since these allegations have become public, Professor Ford testified that not a single person has contacted her to say, “I was at the party that night.”
Furthermore, the professor testified that although she does not remember how she got home that evening, she knew that, because of the distance, she would have needed a ride — yet not a single person has come forward to say that they were the one that drove her home or were in the car with her that night. And Professor Ford also indicated that even though she left that small gathering of six or so people abruptly and without saying goodbye and distraught, none of them called her the next day — or ever — to ask why she left — is she okay — not even her closest friend, Ms. Keyser.
Mr. President, the Constitution does not provide guidance as to how we are supposed to evaluate these competing claims. It leaves that decision up to each Senator. This is not a criminal trial, and I do not believe that claims such as these need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Nevertheless, fairness would dictate that the claims at least should meet a threshold of “more likely than not” as our standard.
The facts presented do not mean that Professor Ford was not sexually assaulted that night — or at some other time — but they do lead me to conclude that the allegations fail to meet the “more likely than not” standard. Therefore, I do not believe that these charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the Court.
Senator Collins also made clear that while she cannot hold these particular allegations against Judge Kavanaugh for the reasons she articulated, she absolutely believes there is an epidemic of women facing sexual assaults in this country — many of whom are too afraid or embarrassed to come forward — and that is an issue that must be seriously addressed for years to come.
Let me emphasize that my approach to this question should not be misconstrued as suggesting that unwanted sexual contact of any nature is not a serious problem in this country. To the contrary, if any good at all has come from this ugly confirmation process, it has been to create an awareness that we have underestimated the pervasiveness of this terrible problem.
I have been alarmed and disturbed, however, by some who have suggested that unless Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination is rejected, the Senate is somehow condoning sexual assault. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Every person — man or woman — who makes a charge of sexual assault deserves to be heard and treated with respect. The #MeToo movement is real. It matters. It is needed. And it is long overdue. We know that rape and sexual assault are less likely to be reported to the police than other forms of assault. On average, an estimated 211,000 rapes and sexual assaults go unreported every year. We must listen to survivors, and every day we must seek to stop the criminal behavior that has hurt so many. We owe this to ourselves, our children, and generations to come.
The esteemed senator from Maine concluded by explaining how disturbed she has been by how partisan and ugly these nominations have become and reminding people that the founders never intended it to be this way.
The politically charged atmosphere surrounding this nomination had reached a fever pitch even before these allegations were known, and it has been challenging even then to separate fact from fiction.
We live in a time of such great disunity, as the bitter fight over this nomination both in the Senate and among the public clearly demonstrates. It is not merely a case of different groups having different opinions. It is a case of people bearing extreme ill will toward those who disagree with them. In our intense focus on our differences, we have forgotten the common values that bind us together as Americans. When some of our best minds are seeking to develop ever more sophisticated algorithms designed to link us to websites that only reinforce and cater to our views, we can only expect our differences to intensify.
This would have alarmed the drafters of our Constitution, who were acutely aware that different values and interests could prevent Americans from becoming and remaining a single people. Indeed, of the six objectives they invoked in the preamble to the Constitution, the one that they put first was the formation of “a more perfect Union.”
Their vision of “a more perfect Union” does not exist today, and if anything, we appear to be moving farther away from it. It is particularly worrisome that the Supreme Court, the institution that most Americans see as the principal guardian of our shared constitutional heritage, is viewed as part of the problem through a political lens.
She then announced that as a result of everything she had just said for the past 40 minutes, she would be voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to become a justice on the Supreme Court.
If you have not watched the speech yet, I highly recommend doing so.
It was long and it was not super exciting, but it was as thorough and intelligent as any political speech I have ever heard.
I have always been proud of Senator Collins, but she legitimately made me weep yesterday, because I was so overwhelmed by how beautifully she handled what was likely the biggest and most significant moment of her entire political career.
God bless Senator Susan Collins.
And may we someday be lucky enough to have 100 senators with even a fraction of her courage, ability to reason, and professionalism.