Kavanaugh confirmed: Students react to Senate’s razor-thin voting margin confirming Kavanaugh following sexual assault allegations, reckon with implications for a conservative court

Sunday, October 7, 2018 - 6:33pm

Protestors march chanting pro-survivor and anti-Kavanaugh slogans at the Stand with Survivors rally against the Kavanaugh confirmation originating on the Diag Thursday, October 4th.

Protestors march chanting pro-survivor and anti-Kavanaugh slogans at the Stand with Survivors rally against the Kavanaugh confirmation originating on the Diag Thursday, October 4th. Buy this photo
Danyel Tharakan/Daily

Following weeks of protests, rallies and hearings regarding allegations of past sexual assault Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed Saturday to the U.S. Supreme Court. His confirmation was by one of the closest margins in American history, and his status as Supreme Court justice solidifies a conservative majority on the court.

Senators voted 50 to 48 nearly along party lines — Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., was the only Democrat to vote “yes” and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala., was the only Republican who stated she would vote “no,” but withdrew her vote in response to Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who was not present but would have voted “yes.” During the vote, protests could be heard from the Senate floor, with chants of “shame” and “I do not consent” ringing from the viewing galleries after votes were called.  

When four key swing state senators, including Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Murkowski as well as Manchin, officially announced their positions on Kavanaugh prior to the final vote, many agreed confirmation was inevitable. For Public Policy junior Katie Kelly, who serves as the communications director of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats, the decisions of Collins, Flake and Manchin to vote “yes” ignited feelings of anger and frustration.   

“It’s really, really frustrating because no matter how many times you call these Senators or how often you protest or stand up it seems like our cries fall on deaf ears,” Kelly said. “It made me hopeful when I heard Jeff Flake come out during the hearings calling for an FBI investigation because it seemed as though maybe it wasn’t going to be a completely partisan issue, that maybe there was a chance some people would see common sense on this … and then he just came right back and completely voted along party lines and really disappointed those who became hopeful during the FBI investigation … After Susan Collins came out and said she was voting yes that was really one of the final nails in the coffin for me.”

LSA sophomore Dylan Berger, president of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, argued support for swing state senators, particularly Collin and Manchin, who voted in favor of Kavanaugh.

“I think both Senators were wise to vote to confirm Kavanaugh,” Berger wrote in an email. “I thought Senator Collins gave a speech on the Senate floor for the ages. She represented the institution of the Senate well by making a decision based on the facts, not mob hysteria. Americans of future generations will thank her for preserving due process in the face of angry mobs of protestors.”

Leading up to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the University community held several protests following the allegations of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University who in September publicly shared details regarding Kavanaugh’s alleged attempt of sexual assault when the two were in high school. Ford is one of three women to publicly accuse Kavanaugh of assault or misconduct.

In a confidential letter Ford sent months ago to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., but publicly released in September by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Ford writes about the high school incident. She states Kavanaugh pushed her into a bedroom while at a gathering in a Maryland home, got on top of her, attempted to remove her clothing and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to yell for help.

In response to these developments in the Kavanaugh hearings, the Law School held a panel during the final week of September with Law professors Kate Andrias, Barbara McQuade and Margo Schlanger on the campus implications of the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh. Following the panel, the Law School community organized a rally titled “Respect Women, Respect Survivors and Respect the Court.” Last week, another rally to protest Kavanaugh and to stand in solidarity with survivors was held on campus as one of dozens nationwide, all organized by the Women’s March.

For LSA junior Hannah Chosid, the confirmation of Kavanaugh despite his sexual assault allegations affirm difficulties in translating the #MeToo movement into effective policy change.

“I feel like since I exist in a liberal bubble, I thought that the #MeToo movement was making change, and that we were going to see our politicians listening to us, and hearing that so many women have had the situations that Dr. Ford had, but I don’t think that did happen,” Chosid said. “I think that what really happened is that the Senate wanted to make sure that there was going to be a conservative vote for another generation, and I don’t think they care about women sharing their experiences.”

Berger stated the allegations against Kavanaugh required a full trial of the situation before affirming Kavanaugh as guilty.

“I wanted the Senate to give (Dr. Ford) an opportunity to testify as well as time for an independent FBI investigation to investigate her claims. Following her testimony and the subsequent FBI investigation, I am more confident than ever about Justice Kavanaugh’s character. While I do believe Dr. Ford was assaulted at some point, I do not believe Justice Kavanaugh was her assailant. In fact, all of the evidence paints Justice Kavanaugh as a loving father, husband and friend,” Berger wrote. “I support the #MeToo movement. It’s important to hold powerful men accountable for sexual misconduct … However, the #MeToo movement should embody American ideals such as due process and innocent until proven guilty. In the Kavanaugh confirmation process, Senate Democrats and left-wing activists threw due process aside in favor of McCarthyist-style smears.”

For the state of Michigan as a whole, public opinion toward Kavanaugh shifted following the allegations. A poll taken from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 of 600 likely Michigan voters found 40 percent approved of Kavanaugh while 45 percent opposed the possibility of confirmation and 15 percent said they were undecided. A poll taken about a month prior found 36 percent were in support, 39 percent opposed and 25 percent were undecided.

When considering the future following the newest Supreme Court justice, Berger stated Kavanaugh’s “decades-long service to our nation has been nothing short of sterling,” and he is “confident that (Kavanaugh) will continue to serve our Republic well on the Supreme Court.”

Other students have voiced concern about the future, particularly following the tumultuous confirmation process that brought questions about ideological shifts on the court and the implications Kavanaugh’s testimonies have had on the #MeToo movement.

LSA sophomore Dylan Gilbert, an award-winning slam poet, shared some of her slam poetry at the Women’s March rally last Thursday. Gilbert said she is unsurprised Kavanaugh was confirmed considering President Donald Trump, who has also faced sexual assault allegations, was elected president in 2016.

“This country’s judicial system has made it clear time and time again that they don’t want us reporting cases of rape or assault,” Gilbert wrote in an email statement. “Reporting has been made into a battle that is almost impossible to win or endure on top of the trauma of an assault. Dr. Ford coming forward in the face of all this was not only brave, but incredibly selfless. Christine Blasey Ford is more of patriot than Brett Kavanaugh could ever hope to be.”

Chosid expressed nervousness toward the future of both the Supreme Court and the political system as a whole following this confirmation, especially considering the approaching midterm elections.

“It secured a conservative majority for a generation, and I’m really nervous about what that means,” Chosid said. “It kind of just made me lose faith in the system … I am going vote in November, but I don’t know what my vote is really going to count towards if this is what keeps happening.”

Kelly encouraged students and citizens to vote in the coming elections, stating though she feels frustrated and disappointed by Kavanaugh’s confirmation, voting and protesting are going to become even more important moving forward.

“There (are) still things we can do to fight as students and as citizens of this country,” Kelly said. “Obviously voting in the midterms is a huge deal but it’s not the only step as citizens that we have. We can protest, we can demand change, we can talk to our fellow students and to our families and friends. I think if we come together as people in this country and demand better by voting out politicians who won’t listen to us and by educating our fellow citizens and friends then we can create change even with someone like Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.”