In the fall of 2018, when Christine Blasey Ford alleged that the then–Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party during high school, feminist legal organizations quickly came to her defense. The National Women’s Law Center, a prominent D.C. advocacy organization, gave a typical response, calling on the Senate to halt its vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination and fully investigate the claim. And it was quick to condemn Kavanaugh: “If the charges are true, Kavanaugh’s behavior makes clear that he is not fit for a seat on the Supreme Court, or any court,” its president and CEO, Fatima Goss Graves, wrote in a statement.
The circumstances of Ford’s allegations are different from those surrounding Tara Reade’s allegation that former Vice President Joe Biden sexually assaulted her while she was working as an aide in his office in 1993. The Senate Judiciary Committee is charged with evaluating the fitness of Supreme Court nominees, and Ford came forward with information relevant to their assessment. The process for adjudicating such a claim in the context of a presidential race is much less clear. Still, the response from feminist organizations to the two claims has been starkly different. For the most part, these groups have stayed silent on Reade’s allegations, or talked about them in vague terms—the NWLC, for example, praised Biden for addressing the claims directly without specifying what should happen next. Condemning Biden carries a clear cost for these groups. They believe that four more years of President Donald Trump would be immensely damaging for their policy agendas and for women in general, which, in their view, means more restrictions on abortion, diminished insurance coverage of birth control, and less access to government benefits provided through programs such as Medicaid and SNAP. And yet, failing to condemn Biden could also be costly, creating the appearance that feminists and the #MeToo movement they’ve championed support justice for sexual-assault survivors only when it is politically convenient.