“Would you hire someone to your staff with a credible sexual assault charge?”
The question, scrawled on an index card by Sam Klein Roche ’19, was aimed last week at senator Susan Collins (R–Maine), who paused briefly before answering.
“If it’s credible, of course not.”
The moment came halfway through a 50-minute talk with the senator at the New Hampshire Institute for Politics at Saint Anselm College. Radio host Virginia Prescott moderated the event, conversing with the senator from paired arm chairs and occasionally weaving in selected audience questions before a packed auditorium of several hundred students, faculty, New Hampshire locals, and members of the press, among them four Vanguardstaff and five FemCo representatives. History Teacher Matt Turnbull chaperoned, trekking north with the group to Manchester to attend the event.
While the talk’s theme was “Civility, Cooperation, and Compromise: Why Our Constitutional Republic Requires Them,” the conversation quickly turned to the prospect of Sen. Collins’ key vote on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and to the ramifications of sexual assault allegations recently raised against him.
As President Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, Judge Kavanaugh has been an embattled nominee. Like the school’s FemCo members, many fear that, if confirmed, the judge will make good on President Trump’s campaign promise to repeal Roe v. Wade or at least take steps to restrict abortion rights.
Controversy around the nomination increased when news broke several weeks ago that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford had written a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D–CA), her state senator, in late July accusing the judge of sexual assaulting her in high school. Just three days after Sen. Collins spoke in New Hampshire, The New Yorker published a story detailing an allegation of sexual misconduct by Judge Kavanaugh against Deborah Ramirez when they were both at Yale University. On Tuesday, Michael Avenatti, attorney for adult film actress and Trump adversary Stormy Daniels, named a third accuser he is now representing, and on Wednesday night, news broke that an anonymous woman had written to the office of Sen. Cory Gardner (R–CO) detailing a fourth incident of sexual misconduct.
Ranking by the Lugar Center and Georgetown University as the most bipartisan member of the senate for the last five years, Sen. Collins is one of several senators who are undecided on Judge Kavanaugh and whose votes will decide the fate of the nomination. Both Sam’s question and the senator’s response appeared in The Boston Globeon September 22, the morning after the event and nearly a week ahead of the Kavanaugh-Ford hearings today.
“How do you assess credibility? It’s hard, but ultimately that’s the job that we’re going to have to do in this case,” Sen. Collins told the New Hampshire gathering. “I think you look at details, you look at what you know about the person, their background, [and ask] is there a pattern?”
Mr. Turnbull said he noticed a shift in tone when the senator was questioned about the confirmation hearing.
“She was pretty candid about her own experience as a senator, but when she was pressed on what it would take for her to vote against Judge Kavanaugh, I kept having these moments where I remembered she was a Republican senator.” Mr. Turnbull said. “If she voted against him, she would be going against her party.”
Sen. Collins said she would make her final decision after hearing Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh questioned before the senate today.
“I feel strongly about seeing both of them, as opposed to just reading about the allegations,” she said. “I think you get a much better sense if you hear the person.”
Sam said that while he agreed the hearing will be important, he thinks Dr. Ford presents a strong case, with credible sources, such as friends Dr. Ford told at the time, and corroborating accounts, such as therapist notes logging the event six years before her more recent statements, according to The Washington Post.
One of the sources corroborating Ms. Ramirez’s story is in fact James Roche, Sam’s uncle and Judge Kavanaugh’s freshman year roommate at Yale. Mr. Roche was quoted attesting to Ms. Ramirez’s character and describing the future judge as “frequently, incoherently drunk”in the original New Yorkerarticle published Monday and a New York Times article published Tuesday.
Sen. Collins told the group gathered Friday that she is still unsure of the truth in Dr. Ford’s allegations, having spoken to Judge Kavanaugh the day after the news broke and before Dr. Ford’s name became public.
“After I read the letter, when I talked to him on Friday, I asked him specifically about the letter, and he was very emphatic about his denial,” Sen. Collins told the New Hampshire crowd. “I asked him if he had any idea who could have written the letter and made the allegations, and he said that he did not.”
In response to mention of a tweet by President Trump arguing that if Dr. Ford’s allegations were true, then they would have been reported to local authorities at the time of the assault, the senator emphasized multiple times that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in the country.
FemCo Co-President Alice O’Neill ’19 said that while she thinks the senator made a valid point, her answer was unsatisfactory because she didn’t address actions that couldbe taken against sexual assault and harassment.
“I understand that most of the questions weren’t focused on that, but I would have liked for her to speak a bit more about the issue instead of just repeating the fact that sexual assault is underreported,” Alice said. “We know that already.”
The senator said earlier in her talk that before the allegations became known, she had spoken to Judge Kavanaugh for over three hours, more than any other senator, about his views on a range of issues.
Harry Golen ’19 addressed some of this in a question he wrote to the senator, which Ms. Prescott also chose to ask during the conversation.
“You said that you would oppose a Supreme Court nominee that would overturn Roe v. Wade, but that Brett Kavanaugh is not that nominee,” Ms. Prescott said, reading Harry’s words. “If you vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh and he later votes to overturn certain parts of that decision, would you resign?”
A murmur ran through the audience in reaction to the question, and Sen. Collins answered quickly.
“I said that I would not vote for someone who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade because that would indicate a lack of respect for the established precedent of the court,” she said. “[Judge Kavanaugh] has told me ‘I’m not a rock-the-boat kind of judge.’”
Harry said he felt Sen. Collins answered the first part of his question but did not address the possibility Judge Kavanaugh could still restrict abortion rights without touching Roe v. Wade.
“In my opinion, a lot of the threats to a women’s right to choose come not in the form of overturning that particular decision, but in terms of interpreting it in ways that infringe upon that right,” Harry said.
FemCo Co-President Nilu Cooper ’19 said she thinks the women who have come forward since Friday could cause the Senator to reconsider her vote.
“Once it’s established that [sexual misconduct] is a potential habit, then that really impacts the judgment of Kavanaugh’s character, more so than when there was just one allegation,” Nilu said.
According to CNN, since the fourth set of accusations became public Sen. Collins has expressed concern privately over the nomination and is questioning why Mark Judge, a close friend of Kavanaugh’s who was allegedly present during Dr. Ford’s assault, has not been subpoenaed.
On Friday, the senator stressed that she wants to carefully consider both sides of the case before casting her vote.
“I recognize how important this decision is, and I want to make sure I’ve been extremely thorough,” Sen. Collins said. “I feel pressure sure, but I don’t feel pressure to make a decision until I’m ready.”