A Supreme Court nominee accused of sexual misconduct: we’ve been here before.
This time it’s Christine Blasey Ford accusing Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a high school party when they were teenagers. Twenty-seven years ago, it was Anita Hill accusing Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment while he oversaw her work at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Both seemed to come at the 11th hour and drew questions of political motivations.
“It does feel strikingly similar in a number of ways,” said Beth Cate, a clinical associate professor who teaches law and public policy at Indiana University.
But there is also a considerable difference. In addition to age, relationship and nature of the allegations, Kavanaugh’s nomination comes after the #MeToo movement raised awareness of the prevalence of sexual misconduct.
It’s hard to know what role this heightened attention of unwanted sexual advances will play in Kavanaugh’s confirmation, or whether it would have prevented Judge Thomas’ confirmation. Ford has asked for an FBI investigation into her accusations but has yet to receive one. The FBI spent three days investigating Hill’s accusations.
There are signs the movement has caused Kavanaugh’s supporters to tread more lightly than they otherwise would, Cate said. President Donald Trump and political consultant Kellyanne Conway have said Ford should be heard.
“Me Too made it more difficult for people to dismiss this out of hand and say it’s politically motivated,” Cate said.
At the same time, the movement has been criticized for causing people to rush to judgment without the usual standards of evidence, in some instances.
It’s difficult to determine the frequency of false sexual misconduct allegations, said Zoe Peterson, director of the Kinsey Institute’s Sexual Assault Initiative. Some have tried to quantify it using reports to authorities that were labeled as unfounded, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the accusations were false. It just means there wasn’t enough information to try the case, the IU associate professor said.