Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer have a new piece up at The New Yorker that is going to give a lot of people a migraine headache. On the face of it, it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would stop the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice. It involves a dorm party that occurred at Yale University over thirty years ago, and predictably there are differences in how people recollect the events, if they claim to recollect them at all. Without a broader context, it would almost sound silly to ask the FBI to try to arbitrate what really happened. But the allegations fit a larger pattern that is beginning to fill out about the behavior of Brett Kavanaugh as a teenager and young adult, and it’s a picture that is troubling.
There are only nine Supreme Court Justices and they each have lifetime appointments. I think we have the right to be extremely demanding in terms of the qualifications and character we expect these people to have, and that makes it a different kind of standard than we’d apply to any other position. I’m not even sure we wouldn’t be justified in rejecting Kavanaugh for the one thing that has been established beyond any reasonable doubt, which is that (as his college roommate reported in The New Yorker piece) Kavanaugh was “frequently, incoherently drunk” during his time as a high school and undergraduate student. That would disqualify a lot of people from serving on the nation’s highest court (including me) but maybe that’s not a bad thing. Surely there are people with a longer and more consistent pattern of serious and upright behavior than me, so why not nominate a few hundred of them before you consider the folks who haven’t always shown the best judgment?
Before I even discuss the dorm party, I want to look at some things that allegedly preceded it.
Now, this first testimony isn’t directly related to Brett Kavanaugh or any of his friends, but is more about the general culture that existed at their all-boy Catholic high school in the early 1980’s. By itself, this would mean nothing but it does paint a picture you should keep in your head.
Another woman who attended high school in the nineteen-eighties in Montgomery County, Maryland, where Georgetown Prep is located, also refuted [Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark] Judge’s account of the social scene at the time, sending a letter to Ford’s lawyers saying that she had witnessed boys at parties that included Georgetown Prep students engaging in sexual misconduct. In an interview, the woman, who asked to have her name withheld for fear of political retribution, recalled that male students “would get a female student blind drunk” on what they called “jungle juice”—grain alcohol mixed with Hawaiian Punch—then try to take advantage of her. “It was disgusting,” she said. “They treated women like meat.”
Now, this second piece of testimony definitely brings things closer to home. You may remember that the central allegation against Kavanaugh is that he attempted to rape Dr. Christine Blasey Ford at a party when she was fifteen years old. In Dr. Ford’s retelling of that incident, Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge was present in the room. He has denied any recollection of the party or the alleged assault. But his ex-girlfriend has stepped forward to dispute how Judge characterizes his overall behavior in that time period.
Asked by the interviewer whether he could remember any “sort of rough-housing with a female student back in high school” that might have been “interpreted differently by parties involved,” Judge told [The Weekly Standard], “I can’t. I can recall a lot of rough-housing with guys.” He added, “I don’t remember any of that stuff going on with girls.”
After seeing Judge’s denial, Elizabeth Rasor, who met Judge at Catholic University and was in a relationship with him for about three years, said that she felt morally obligated to challenge his account that “ ‘no horseplay’ took place at Georgetown Prep with women.” Rasor stressed that “under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t reveal information that was told in confidence,” but, she said, “I can’t stand by and watch him lie.” In an interview with The New Yorker, she said, “Mark told me a very different story.” Rasor recalled that Judge had told her ashamedly of an incident that involved him and other boys taking turns having sex with a drunk woman. Rasor said that Judge seemed to regard it as fully consensual. She said that Judge did not name others involved in the incident, and she has no knowledge that Kavanaugh participated. But Rasor was disturbed by the story and noted that it undercut Judge’s protestations about the sexual innocence of Georgetown Prep.
With those two descriptions of what Georgetown Prep high school parties could be like, we can flash forward twelve months to Kavanaugh’s freshman year at Yale. I’ve already noted that his roommate says Kavanaugh was “frequently, incoherently drunk.” So, based on that and on the environment Kavanaugh came from in his high school days, does the following sound plausible to you?
When Deborah Ramirez was a freshmen at Yale, she attended a dorm-room party at the invitation of a friend on the college soccer team. Once there, she engaged in a drinking game in which she was frequently targeted in order to get her very drunk. For this reason, her recollection of the evening is imperfect by her own admission. She does recall however that someone took out at a “gag plastic penis” and jokingly pointed it at her. This caused some confusion for her later on when she was “on the floor, foggy and slurring her words,” and Brett Kavanaugh took out his very real penis and put it in front of her face.
“I remember a penis being in front of my face,” she said. “I knew that’s not what I wanted, even in that state of mind.” She recalled remarking, “That’s not a real penis,” and the other students laughing at her confusion and taunting her, one encouraging her to “kiss it.” She said that she pushed the person away, touching it in the process. Ramirez, who was raised a devout Catholic, in Connecticut, said that she was shaken. “I wasn’t going to touch a penis until I was married,” she said. “I was embarrassed and ashamed and humiliated.” She remembers Kavanaugh standing to her right and laughing, pulling up his pants. “Brett was laughing,” she said. “I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants.” She recalled another male student shouting about the incident. “Somebody yelled down the hall, ‘Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie’s face,’ ” she said. “It was his full name. I don’t think it was just ‘Brett.’ And I remember hearing and being mortified that this was out there.”
There are people that Ramirez identified as being present at this party who are denying that it happened or that they remember it happening, but there are other people who have independently corroborated that they heard about the incident and still remember it. In fact, because The New Yorker only contacted Ramirez “after learning of her possible involvement in an incident involving Kavanaugh,” it seems likely that the reason this came out at all is because Yale graduates who remembered the story were discussing it among themselves and word leaked out.
In any case, this wasn’t run-of-the-mill drunken knucklehead behavior. People don’t generally take their genitals out at parties and wag them in people’s faces. It was aberrant enough to be memorable. Perhaps the bigger problem than the bullying and infliction of humiliation in this story is that it fits with the more general pattern of drunken, disrespectful, and even violent behavior that has been alleged against Judge and Kavanaugh.
Perhaps unfortunately, attorney Michael Avenatti is also getting into the act now.
My e-mail of moments ago with Mike Davis, Chief Counsel for Nominations for U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. We demand that this process be thorough, open and fair, which is what the American public deserves. It must not be rushed and evidence/witnesses must not be hidden. pic.twitter.com/11XLZJBTtY
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) September 24, 2018
In an exchange of emails with Mike Davis, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s chief counsel for nominations, Avenatti suggests that he has evidence that Kavanaugh participated in gang rapes against women who had been targeted with alcohol—possibly the grain alcohol mixed with Hawaiian Punch ‘jungle juice’ concoction mentioned by the anonymous testifier above.
Avenatti lets it be known that he’ll be sharing this information with the public whether or not the Judiciary Committee agrees to investigate it.
So, these are the kind of stories the media will be discussing between now and Thursday when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is scheduled to testify that Brett Kavanaugh pinned her down in a bedroom when she was fifteen years old and unsuccessfully attempted to remove her one-piece bathing suit and rape her.
To revisit what I said at the top, we only have nine Supreme Court Justices and they have lifetime appointments. It’s not clear what precisely Kavanaugh did or didn’t do, but I think we should all be able to agree that he’s not the kind of nominee we have the right to expect. I’m not entirely comfortable with how this is all going down and I don’t know how strictly we want to judge people by how they behaved as adolescents or young adults. Yet, the rape (and rape attempt) allegations in particular are very disturbing and so is the approach of the Republicans who have decided to try to plow through with this nomination without doing a serious investigation of the allegations. For example, last week the Republicans learned that the Yale dorm party story was going to come out and their response was to try to give Kavanaugh a lifetime appointment before it did.
The offices of at least four Democratic senators have received information about the allegation, and at least two have begun investigating it. Senior Republican staffers also learned of the allegation last week and, in conversations with The New Yorker, expressed concern about its potential impact on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Soon after, Senate Republicans issued renewed calls to accelerate the timing of a committee vote.
If Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed and serves to the age that John Paul Stevens did before retiring, he will be on the court for thirty-seven years. I mention that just for some perspective on the Republicans’ behavior here. They might want to be sure they understand this man’s character a little better before they make a decision that will be very hard to claw back.
No human being is beyond reproach, obviously, but we really should not be debating whether or not a Supreme Court nominee does or does not have a record as a sexual predator. There are countless better candidates for a job like this one, including people who didn’t spend much of their youth in a drunken stupor. Maybe that’s a tough standard but few jobs count for more or demand higher standards than a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh’s nomination should be withdrawn, and following a thorough investigation he quite possibly should be removed from his current position on the DC Circuit.