In a Wall Street Journal op-ed written shortly before his confirmation vote, Judge Brett Kavanaugh assured the public that Justice Brett Kavanaugh would not resemble the enraged nominee who showed up at his second Senate hearing to defend himself against charges that he had committed sexual assault as a teenager. He wrote, “I will remain optimistic, on the sunrise side of the mountain.” In the aftermath of the Kavanaugh debacle, I will remain pessimistic, on the sunset side of the mountain. It’s getting dark quickly.
Sexual violence is a serious national problem. But in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearing, it has joined the list of explosively partisan issues. Republicans—adopting the rhetorical style of the president—dismiss accusers. Democrats mock the idea that fairness and due process are necessary for the accused. These attitudes will be detrimental to the country and are perilous for each party.
A little recent history is necessary to understand how we got here. Until #MeToo, the most high-profile initiative on sexual assault was the Obama administration’s effort to put an end to it on college campuses using Title IX, the federal law that prevents discrimination in education. In pursuit of a worthy goal, the administration quickly went too far. Definitions on campus of what constitutes sexual misconduct became vastly inflated, and procedures to investigate and adjudicate misconduct were often stacked against the accused, overwhelmingly young men.