Even as Brett Kavanaugh
— the nation’s 114th Supreme Court justice– is expected to report to work today, Black lawmakers, lawyers and activists are among those looking at what’s next following a rancorous confirmation battle.
The White House hosted a second swearing-in ceremony on Monday night for Kavanaugh who’d been
administered the official oath privately on Saturday, hours after the U.S. Senate voted 50-48 to confirm the controversial judge.
While Kavanaugh vowed in a speech last night to be an “independent and impartial Justice devoted to equal justice under law,” president Donald Trump used the occasion to blast what he termed “a campaign of political and personal destruction based on lies and deception.”
“On behalf of our nation, I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure,” said Trump.
Yet those who opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination, view the process and its outcome differently. There’s been buzz about whether the newly minted Associate Justice could be impeached, while others are urging voters to take their concerns to the ballot box as November’s midterms rapidly approach.
Fatima Goss Graves, President/ CEO of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), was one of the African American legal minds who spoke out against the nomination early on.
“We will fight this. The collective rage that this process has unleashed from women and survivors will not be bottled up,” the attorney said in a statement shortly after the cloture vote that brought the nomination to the full Senate. “We hope our elected officials have taken note of what Kavanaugh himself has made resoundingly clear: Brett Kavanaugh is not fit for office, and we, the people, do not want him as our Supreme Court Justice.”
Trump nominated Kavanaugh in July to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing vote on the court. Immediately there were questions about how the conservative judge might vote on Roe v. Wade, presidential privilege, civil rights cases and more.
As the process unfolded, allegations emerged from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh at a high school party back in the 1980s. In turn, he forcefully denied the allegations.
At the urging of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the Republican majority was forced to slow the vote for a week pending an FBI investigation that Trump ordered. Yet critics contend it was limited; key witnesses, including Ford and two other women who’d publicly come forth with sexual misconduct accusations were reportedly not interviewed.
Those tensions hung over U.S. Senate deliberations this weekend as protestors marched outside and angry shouts from spectators echoed inside the chambers of the U.S. Capitol. Nonetheless, key swing votes including that of Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) –who spoke at length about her vote to confirm– helped seal Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is one of three African Americans in the U.S. Senate along with Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tim Scott (R-SC). Harris and Booker, the only African Americans on the Judiciary Committee, both opposed Kavanaugh. Scott “proudly” voted to confirm the judge.
“It is now up to each of us to continue to fight for justice and equality and hold our government accountable,” said Harris in a statement. “Senate Republicans used raw power to rush an unfit nominee onto the Supreme Court when the American people have more questions than answers about Judge Kavanaugh’s suitability to serve.”
Noting that the judge “does not have the character, the temperament, or the judgment to sit on the highest court in our land,” Harris added that the process was a “disservice” to Ford, survivors everywhere, and the American people.
In agreement is La’Tasha Mayes, the founder and executive director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice, an organization in Pennsylvania and Ohio whose mission centers around the health of Black women, femmes and girls.
“Black women are the largest constituency in the United States that has no representation on the Supreme Court – we’ve never had a Black woman Supreme Court Justice,” Mayes said.
Now, she believes, Kavanaugh will tip the balance of the court against the rights and lives of women of color for generations to come.
“For Black women, we are now forced to live in a country that has a supreme license to violate our bodies predicated on rape culture and to block our ability to regulate our own reproduction,” she said.
While the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and party members have largely opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination, he’s enjoyed partisan support. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said recently on television that the opposition has “energized” the Republican base.
African American Republicans such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, lawmakers and party loyalists have championed the judge. Scott, the nation’s only Black Senator from the deep South, said in a Twitter statement that he’d read the FBI report and “nothing corroborates any of the allegations laid out against” the judge.
“I have full faith and expectation that [he] will continue his sterling 13-year judicial record of integrity, impartiality, fairness, a devotion to the rule of law and honoring the Founding Father’s original Constitutional intent,” said Scott.
Kay Coles James, who served in the George W. Bush Administration and is the first African American to lead the conservative Heritage Foundation, said in a website statement that she was “overjoyed” the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh, describing him as “a good man and good jurist.”
While noting she believed the judge will serve with distinction, James acknowledged how the “long and painful process exposed the lack of civility and unity in America.”
The Congressional Black Caucus, as well as civil rights and legal organizations –among them– the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), National Action Network (NAN), NAACP, and The Lawyers’ Committee, all rejected the Kavanaugh nomination. So did women activists from organizations such as Women’s March, Black Women’s Roundtable, the #MeToo movement, Times Up and others.
“Millions of Americans today see that there are two Americas,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF in a statement. The attorney added that “sadly, millions of sexual assault survivors fear that they must remain silent about the abuse and trauma they have suffered.”
Now that Kavanaugh has been elevated to the High Court, Ifill warned of challenges ahead, but vowed to fight for the pursuit of racial justice and equality.
“We will continue to demand that our legal system honor the words etched into the edifice of the United States Supreme Court: equal justice under the law,” she said. “Confronting a more firmly entrenched conservative Supreme Court means that we must be more strategic, more aggressive, and even more uncompromising in our demand for justice and equality.”
Derrick Johnson, President/CEO of the NAACP called Kavanaugh’s confirmation a “devastating blow” to democracy.
“The American people deserved better than this. Now more than ever we must harness our frustration and use our voices at the ballot box in November so this grave injustice of historic proportion never happens again. We must vote: our freedoms, our protections, and our lives depend on it.”
That voting theme was echoed widely—from the head of EMILY’s List, a group that backs Democratic, pro-choice women candidates, to Kelley Robinson, National Organizing Director for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
“Just like they ignored us when Anita Hill made sexual harassment claims against Clarence Thomas, they’ve continued to ignore our voices and Dr. Blasey Ford’s today,” said Robinson.
“In the midterms, we can vote, and we know Black women will vote for candidates who will protect our health and rights,” she said. “Women, young people, and people of color have spent the last year powering electoral victories that no-one thought possible. November 6 is our chance: we are going to take back Congress.”
“Women will not forget this,” predicted Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List. “We will decide this election, and elections beyond, and we will elect women who will protect our rights. Republicans — start packing your bags for home.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Senate Minority Leader, spoke on the Senate floor before the vote. “Our country needs to have a reckoning on these issues, and there is only one remedy,” he said. “Change must come from where change in America always begins – the ballot box.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) is a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee. The attorney said in a statement that the “tribalism and electoral realities of the day made a fulsome investigation of Brett Kavanaugh’s fitness nearly impossible, and his confirmation all but certain.”
The Congresswoman had this take going forward: “Should the electoral majorities in one or both houses of Congress change, I encourage my colleagues to continue to investigate to unearth that which this confirmation process failed to do, and act accordingly. Until then, I still believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.”