“I do not consent! I do not consent! Where is my representation?”
Those desperate words rang out in the Senate galley on October 6 as protesters tried to make the US Senate listen to the majority of people across the country opposed to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
But the elected leaders of the “world’s greatest democracy” ignored the objections of protesters inside the Senate gallery — as 13 women were arrested for interrupting the vote over the angry shouts of Vice President Mike Pence, who repeatedly had to bring the process back to order.
Republicans rammed through Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the nation’s highest court in a 50-48 vote that day, allowing a man accused of sexual assault by multiple women to now determine the fate of, among other things, women’s right to control their bodies.
They ignored the thousands of women and men who had protested in the days before the vote in cities and towns across the country, declaring: “We believe all survivors.” It was a stark illustration of who Congress represents — and it’s not ordinary people.
Elements of Kavanaugh’s nomination process and his confirmation vote would feel like a farce if it weren’t for the deadly serious consequences.
There was the FBI’s supposed “investigation” of Kavanaugh, which didn’t include interviews of either Kavanaugh, his accuser Dr Christine Blasey Ford or the multiple potential corroborating witnesses. As Blasey Ford’s legal team said: “An FBI investigation that did not include interviews of Dr Ford and Judge Kavanaugh is not a meaningful investigation in any sense of the word.”
The agency reportedly ignored claims by Kavanaugh’s former classmates that contradicted his testimony, and failed to investigate the multiple, well-documented lies that Kavanaugh told while under oath to Congress.
Then there was the added absurdity that all 100 senators were forced to share a single copy of the 46-page FBI report, which was kept in a secure room on Capitol Hill. Democrats and Republicans took turns reviewing it, being allowed to access the room only one hour at a time before having to cede the room to the other party.
At its core, Kavanaugh’s confirmation was about the right wing appointing a ruling-class warrior to turn back the clock on any number of fronts. The Democratic Party, the “B team” of capital, shows little interest in taking that on.
If they had wanted to, the Democrats could have used Kavanaugh’s nomination as an opportunity to talk about defending women’s rights, fighting sexual violence, or rolling back the assaults that Kavanaugh has supported on civil liberties, to name just a few examples.
They could have questioned Kavanaugh at length and with real rigor during the hearing — pointing out the many allegations against him or the many inconsistencies in his testimony. They could have, as Splinter news put it, “forcefully campaigned against him in public. The fact that they chose not to says something about how the Democrats view the angry protests Kavanaugh’s nomination unleashed."
With Kavanaugh sworn in, the Democratic response will be predictable: those who spent recent weeks protesting should donate to and vote for Democratic candidates in November, and “remember in 2020”.
But returning the Democrats to power and building our power are two separate things — as the steady erosion of women’s rights and more under successive Democratic administrations has shown.
Post-Kavanaugh, Democrats will say we need to respect the rule of law and respect the Court. They’ll tell us to forget about the possibility, slim though it might be, of impeaching Kavanaugh — or even conducting a real investigation into the allegations against him.
Kavanaugh’s nomination would have sailed through without a fight at all, but for the bravery of Ford and the grassroots opposition as a result of the #MeToo movement. This finally forced the Democrats to put up at least some semblance of a fight.
The explosion of protest gave a glimpse of what could have stopped Kavanaugh’s confirmation. But in this instance, our mobilisations weren’t strong enough to confront politicians with a real political price for their covering for Kavanaugh.
We owe no respect to a Court that has Kavanaugh on it or to a Congress so inherently disdainful of the opinion of millions of ordinary people. In the end, senators representing less than half of the US confirmed a nominee opposed by most Americans — who was nominated by a man who lost the popular vote.
As reporter Astead Wesley pointed out on Twitter, Kavanaugh is now the 114th Supreme Court justice in American history. Of those, 108 have been white men. Just four have been women, and three have been non-white.
With Kavanaugh sworn in, there are now more justices sitting on the Court who have been accused of sexual misconduct than women of colour to ever sit on the Court.
The feeling of rage and defeat so many of us were feeling after Kavanaugh was confirmed was palpable. The new reality of a Kavanaugh Court means an escalation of the attacks on our clinics and our right to choose abortion, on our rights as workers and our rights as immigrants and other oppressed people.
The right sees Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a big win — and will be using this to fire up the Republican hard right base for the midterm elections. They will repeat endlessly the idea that, as Trump said, “It’s a scary time for young men in America” — who supposedly can be taken down by false allegations of sexual assault.
There will be some who try to use this as an excuse to return to the bad old days when sexual assault could be passed off as merely “boys will be boys” behaviour. For instance, Brooklyn College professor Mitchell Langbert recently opined: “If someone did not commit sexual assault in high school, then he is not a member of the male sex.”
The process of confirming Kavanaugh should make us re-evaluate the usual opposition strategy of liberal groups and organizations prioritising voting for Democratic candidates and contributing to the party’s coffers — or pursuing a strategy of “bipartisanship” — as a way of seeking to appeal to the centre-right.
It wasn’t the Democrats, but grassroots protest that opened up space that drew out and delayed Kavanaugh’s confirmation. We lost this battle, but it can help lay the basis for a stronger left in the future. But the fights to come will require bigger and independent grassroots movements.
We should take heart from Debbie Ramirez, one of the women who came forward to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault while at Yale. In a letter posted online by a classmate following the vote to confirm Kavanaugh, Ramirez wrote: “There may be people with power who are looking the other way, but there are millions more who are standing together, speaking up about personal experiences of sexual violence and taking action to support survivors. This is truly a collective moment of survivors and allies standing together.
“Thank you for hearing me, seeing me and believing me. I am grateful for each and every one of you. We will not be silenced.”
When it comes to shaping the Supreme Court, there is no doubt that the right sees Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a chance to undermine decades of progressive legislation. This not only threatens the legal right to abortion, but civil rights, LGBTI rights, immigrant rights and any other progressive gains of the past century.
Those victories did not come as a result of Democratic appointees to the Court — they were the result of hard-fought struggles and social movements.
It is worth remembering the words of people’s historian Howard Zinn, whose words about the Supreme Court in 2005 can serve as a beacon of hope — and a call to action: “It would be naive to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of colour, dissenters of all kinds.
“Those rights only come alive when citizens organise, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel and violate the law in order to uphold justice...
“The courts have never been on the side of justice, only moving a few degrees one way or the other, unless pushed by the people. Those words engraved in the marble of the Supreme Court, ‘Equal Justice Before the Law,’ have always been a sham.
“No Supreme Court, liberal or conservative, will stop [wars], or redistribute the wealth of this country, or establish free medical care for every human being.
“Such fundamental change will depend, the experience of the past suggests, on the actions of an aroused citizenry, demanding that the promise of the Declaration of Independence — an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — be fulfilled.”
[Abridged from US Socialist Worker.]