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Nomination by Death Threat: Picking a Justice in the Age of Trump

Death threats: how we choose Supreme Court justices today.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, September 5, 2018.

Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has leveled a sexual assault accusation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, is facing doxxing, death threats, online stalking and an intense media spotlight. This is now the world we live in. Stand up, and you are instantly freckled with the laser dots of a million internet rifles.

The political implications of a failed Kavanaugh nomination have motivated Donald Trump’s supporters into a mob action that is terrifying in its speed and scope. In addition to receiving multiple death threats, Blasey Ford’s home address was posted online, and she and her family have been forced to relocate.

In other words, Blasey Ford is facing exactly what she feared would happen if she came forward. Her vivid safety concerns have called into question whether or not she will participate in a Monday hearing called by Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley.

The situation, already volatile, has been made even more chaotic and uncertain by Trump himself, who began the week stating that Blasey Ford’s claims should be heard. On Tuesday, he abruptly argued the hearing next week should go forward whether or not Dr. Ford chooses to testify.

Today, Trump suddenly indicated the Kavanaugh nomination might be dropped entirely. “Look,” he said before departing for the Carolinas, “if she shows up and makes a credible showing, that will be very interesting and we’ll have to make a decision.” Brett Kavanaugh, meanwhile, has issued a categorical denial of having committed the assault, later followed by another.

Blasey Ford spent the three decades after the attack trying to come to grips with the trauma of what happened to her while working to put it behind her and move on. In July, when she saw Brett Kavanaugh’s name appear on Donald Trump’s short list of nominees to the high court, she reached out to Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo, who in turn reached out to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. She told her story to The Washington Post under the expectation that it remain confidential. She hired a lawyer, Debra Katz, and took a polygraph, which she passed.

After a few weeks, Blasey Ford decided to refrain from speaking out publicly. Everything she had seen in the papers and on television indicated that Kavanaugh’s confirmation was all but assured. “Why suffer through the annihilation,” she said, “if it’s not going to matter?”

And then The Intercept leaked the outlines of Blasey Ford’s story, and the New York Times fleshed it out. Reporters started sniffing around her home and workplace, and it wouldn’t be long before her name got out there. Almost overnight, her personal calculus changed. Late last week, Christine Blasey Ford took a deep breath and stepped into the maelstrom.

GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley scheduled a hearing for Monday, in which both Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh might testify. The hearing itself was still very much in question on Tuesday afternoon. After Grassley announced it on Monday, newspaper headlines screamed some permutation of “Kavanaugh, Accuser to Testify” … but Blasey Ford hadn’t yet confirmed she would attend. Some Republican senators began to publicly ask if she was getting cold feet.

As it turns out, Blasey Ford did not reply because she was running for her life from multiple anonymous online attacks that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. On Tuesday evening, Blasey Ford requested through her attorneys that the FBI perform a full investigation of her allegation before she testifies. “A full investigation by law enforcement officials,” reads her request, “will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions.”

At the time of this writing, no FBI investigation has been scheduled. Judiciary Committee Republicans are pushing to hold the hearing as scheduled on Monday and then vote. If Blasey Ford chooses not to testify, they say, so be it, she had her chance. To be sure, Blasey Ford has not explicitly stated she will not attend the hearing if no investigation is done. In light of what has already taken place, however, what she will ultimately decide to do is anyone’s guess.

The outcome of the hearing on Monday could well determine whether the Kavanaugh nomination collapses, which could well determine whether Republicans will lose the congressional majority in November. A Democratic Congress would go after Trump with all the powers at its disposal, but a Justice Kavanaugh would serve as Trump’s final legal firewall, as Kavanaugh believes presidents are above and beyond the rule of law. If Trump loses both Congress and Kavanaugh, three words — “resignation, impeachment, conviction” — will follow him around the White House like a shadow you can see in the dark.

This is now how we choose new members of the United States Supreme Court: Neo-Nazis and online thugs make threats so severe that important witnesses are forced to take flight in fear for their lives and the lives of their families. The backlash against Blasey Ford is so vicious that women with similar names are being attacked. A former professor named Christine A. Ford had her name splashed across the Drudge Report and repeated by Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham before the record was set straight.

The circumstances may be unique, but the story is an old one. A woman comes forward with a gut-wrenching report of sexual assault against a powerful and well-connected man, and a building is dropped on her. Anita Hill knows this story, as do sexual assault attorneys and the women they represent. Millions of survivors know it all too well. The victim is made to be the criminal, and in the case of Blasey Ford, the hunted.

No justice of the Supreme Court can or should be selected under these circumstances, period, end of file. At a bare minimum, the proceedings should be delayed until some form of investigation is done. If the brownshirts control the narrative on a matter as consequential as this, the country is already gone.

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