Posted on October 7, 2021 Issues: Sexual Harassment Supreme Court

By Sage Carson and Anna Chu

 

On October 6, 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court, despite being credibly accused by multiple women of sexual assault.

In the weeks prior, thousands of people, including many survivors of sexual violence, demanded Senators vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. We were part of this effort, and spent over a month leading marches and protests all over Capitol Hill, asking our political leaders to hear our stories and demanding a fair and independent investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh. We cried, we chanted, we pounded on the doors of the Supreme Court, and we laid down our bodies on the streets up until the last moment of the confirmation process.

Brett Kavanaugh at the White House after being announced as Trump’s pick to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

The lack of a meaningful investigation by the FBI, in collusion with the Trump White House, is not surprising when it comes to Kavanaugh because it wasn’t the first time our highest leaders failed to take seriously and meaningfully investigate claims of sexual harassment.

Thirty years ago, after Anita Hill confidentially shared her report of Clarence Thomas’ sexual harassment, the FBI conducted a perfunctory three-day investigation into her claims––finding them “unfounded.” Following the rapid investigation, Hill came forward publicly and agreed to testify about Thomas’ harassment. What followed was a media circus after which her life was forever altered.

And just a few weeks ago, U.S. gymnasts including Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles and Aly Raisman testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the complete failure of the FBI to seriously investigate the sexual harassment claims against Larry Nassar, allowing the abuse of possibly 120 athletes after the FBI first heard of charges against him.

After Dr. Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez came forward to share their stories of sexual violence at the hands of Kavanaugh, the FBI set up a tip line to supposedly help inform their investigation. The FBI received 4,500 tips, but has never indicated that it followed up on any of the tips that came through the hotline.

Instead, the tips were referred to the Trump White House––the same White House that was publicly dragging Dr. Ford through the mud for daring to speak out.

We may never know what valuable information were in those tips but what is clear is that the FBI was not searching for truth – or justice.

Thirty years since Anita Hill’s testimony and three years since Dr. Blasey Ford’s, it is well past time for the Biden Administration and the Senate and House Judiciary Committees to address the mistakes of our past and set a new path forward for how allegations of sexual harassment are handled. It is essential that they put in place a process that everyone––survivors, named perpetrators, elected officials, and the public––can have confidence in.

It can start with providing people across the country with the transparency they deserve – especially when it comes to investigations concerning a Supreme Court judge who will decide our most fundamental rights. The Senate and House Judiciary Committees should examine what the FBI and the Trump White House’s investigation into Kavanaugh involved, how derogatory information received was handled, and what the substance of those tips gathered through the hotline and information gathered from the allowed witnesses were. Moreover, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Trump White Counsel Don McGahn must answer for any missteps made.

There should also be an independent investigator who can review the substance of the information gathered and be allowed to follow leads of potential wrongdoing. It is clear that the FBI is not currently equipped to conduct any such investigation in a fair and impartial manner. Instead, the recent investigation by the New York Attorney General regarding allegations against Governor Cuomo was an independent, impartial, and thorough process that could be emulated here. The New York AG’s independent investigation provided the public with information it can trust. This is an example of what justice can look like.

The recent revelations that the FBI performed the most superficial of investigations into the claims against Kavanaugh is part of a pattern of failing survivors, from Anita Hill, to Dr. Blasey Ford, to Debbie Ramirez, to Simone Biles, and more than a hundred athletes. Three years after Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, we have a new administration and an opportunity to chart a new course. Our leaders cannot continue to be complicit in enabling abusers. The Biden administration and Congress must show that they are invested in real investigations, not hollow, three-day reviews. They must show they value truth and the pursuit of justice, and institutions like the FBI and the Department of Justice must prove to the people of this country that they are here to serve the people, and not just the powerful, from those in our highest courts to those in our college campuses.

 

Anna Chu is the vice president for Strategy and Policy at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).

Sage Carson is the manager of Know Your IX.

 

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