Thanks to the power of the #MeToo movement and the courage of Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and now Julie Swetnick, the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, appearing only days ago to be a virtual lock, is now hanging by a thread. Kavanaugh, having amassed a thoroughly reactionary anti-woman, anti-worker, and pro-corporation record as a judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, was already the most unpopular Supreme Court nominee since Robert Bork in 1987. Then Blasey Ford’s allegation of sexual assault was made public.
It is unfortunate that Blasey Ford, Ramirez, and Swetnick must endure an unimaginably stressful and traumatic episode as nationally known victims and survivors of sexual assault. Brett Kavanaugh should have been been forced to withdraw on the basis of his right-wing politics and, in particular, the threat he posed to Roe v. Wade, which is supported by 64% of Americans according to a July 2018 Gallup poll. If Kavanaugh is forced to withdraw, it will be due to the mass anger at sexual abuse reflected in the #MeToo movement, and not at all due to the so-called resistance of the Democratic Party establishment.
The Kavanaugh sexual assault allegations have exposed the culture at the elite, private high schools and Ivy League university fraternities and societies. This is a horrifying, misogynistic world where there is literally a culture of raping women that is passed from generation to generation of ruling-class youth. This is the culture that future judges, politicians, CEOs, and presidents are steeped in, one in which rich, white men make a game of objectifying, humiliating, and assaulting women. The training ground for the ruling-class patriarchy runs through Harvard, Yale, and elite high schools like Georgetown Prep.
Political Establishment in Crisis
The Republican leadership appears to have learned nothing from the reaction of women to Trump’s history of sexual abuse, or the Roy Moore scandal as they dig in behind Kavanaugh. It is being reported that Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has told senators to prepare to work through the weekend, meaning the Senate Republican leadership intends to try to introduce a vote in the full Senate as early as Saturday. Between pressure from the right-wing base to get another conservative justice on the court before the midterms, when the Senate could swing to the Democrats, and the concern that even more allegations may surface against Kavanaugh, the Republicans are calculating how fast they can push the nomination through and they are willing to brand themselves as the party of predator enablers in the process.
At this point, with the massive anger at Kavanaugh’s nomination going forward despite the allegations against him, no Democratic Senator could possibly vote to confirm him without committing political suicide. We should remember, however, that prior to Christine Blasey Ford coming forward, Kavanaugh’s confirmation seemed all but assured. The Democratic Party leadership refused to enforce a party line vote on Kavanaugh because they felt that a vote against Kavanaugh could hurt the midterm chances of Democratic Senators in states Trump won. The Democrats’ “resistance” was limited to some combative questioning in the Senate Judiciary hearings, most notably by California Senator Kamala Harris. The entire episode demonstrates the weakness of the Democratic Party. Now, presumably, their spines have been stiffened by the righteous anger of millions of women who cannot tolerate the casual acceptance of sexual assault among the ruling class.
Kavanaugh’s Reactionary Right Wing Politics
Even before Kavanaugh’s alleged history of sexual assault was revealed, he was a serious threat to women’s rights. Kavanaugh’s hostility to abortion rights was illustrated by his dissent in the DC Court of Appeals decision to allow a pregnant 17 year old immigrant to have an abortion while she was being held in a private detention center. Kavanaugh agreed that the young woman had a right to an abortion, but suggested a legal solution that would have forced her to wait until she was more than 20 weeks pregnant, the absolute limit for abortions in Texas where she was being held. Trump nominated Kavanaugh at least in part because he is seen as strongly anti-abortion, a position demanded by the highly organized Christian Right. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would be a clear threat to women’s bodily autonomy and, while women’s groups organized direct actions during Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings, a broader fight against the nominee was possible even before the sexual assault allegations came to light.
The Kavanaugh nomination should be ringing alarm bells not just for women’s groups. Kavanaugh infamously wrote a dissent of the DC court’s decision to uphold an OSHA fine after Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by an orca whale during a show, arguing that animal training was similar to professional sports and inherently risky – therefore the employer should have no responsibility for the safety of its trainers. There are scores of cases in which Kavanaugh ruled against government regulations, including many regulations that protected the environment. Kavanaugh is a model judge for big business and a serious threat to working people.
Women Fight Back
Women held protests across the country on Monday, September 24 and over a hundred were arrested doing direct action at Senate offices in Washington. This is an excellent step, but larger and more militant mass actions that shake the political establishment to its foundations could kill the Kavanaugh nomination once and for all. From the Women’s Marches to the McDonald’s women’s strikes against sexual harassment, women have shown they are ready to move into action against sexual abuse.
Increasingly, there is a contradiction developing between the willingness of ordinary women to fight back against anti-abortion misogynists like Brett Kavanaugh and the Democratic Party establishment which does virtually nothing to organize a real resistance movement in the streets and workplaces. The truth is that the Democratic Party fears the activism of working-class people. Canceling Kavanaugh is one thing, but the Democrats worry that once women, young people, and working people experience a big victory through protest they will demand more changes that may not be acceptable to the party’s billionaire backers.
This whole awful situation speaks volumes about why we need an independent left party in this country with a pro-working-class program which could mobilize people not just in the voting booths but in the streets against Trump and the reactionary agenda of the right. However, currently there is understandably a massive desire on the left to punish the Republicans in the midterms by electing Democrats. Furthermore, with a number of candidates running and winning on a program similar to that of Bernie Sanders, a new progressive current in the Democratic Party is emerging. Among these successful progressive candidates in Democratic primaries are a number running as socialists and members of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), most notably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
While Socialist Alternative’s position is that socialists should build a party independent of the Democrats and big business, the DSA should test the limits of the Democratic Party on a concrete issue such as Brett Kavanaugh. The DSA now has 50,000 members nationwide, and several active socialist feminist caucuses within it. The DSA should join with its allies in the labor movement, as well as other left groups, to organize urgent protests, walkouts, and direct actions against Kavanaugh all across the country in the coming days with a broad call to all those who want to defend Roe v. Wade and fight against sexual assault.
At the time of this writing, there is no inevitability to the Kavanaugh confirmation. Much is riding on Thursday’s Senate hearing where Kavanaugh and his accuser will testify. Republican leaders appear to be prepared to push as hard as is necessary to get Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court, while the Democrats are now forced by the power of #MeToo to fully oppose Kavanaugh. Unfortunately, the Democrats’ opposition will, in all likelihood, be limited to the Senate hearing itself, not drawing on the enormous potential power of the new women’s movement that is building steam. With the Democratic Party so far refusing to organize mass protests against Kavanaugh, it is up to the unions, the women’s organizations and other groups on the left, including the DSA, to bring Kavanaugh down once and for all, in the event that the weight of the multiple sexual assault accusations against him isn’t enough on their own.