In a year rife with hashtags and walkouts, it’s time to add another important one to the mix. #BelieveSurvivors is still all over our Twitter feed, and for good reason. On September 24, women across the United States used the hashtag to share photos of themselves participating in a nation-wide walkout in support of Dr. Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, two women who have accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Though these alleged crimes happened decades ago, the repercussions are horrifying—especially since Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court would see him presiding over cases that deal with sensitive topics, including abortion and sexual assault.
This story continues to unfold—also on September 24, the New York Times reported that a page from Kavanaugh’s high school year book “offers a glimpse of the teenage years of the man who is now President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee,” including what may be a veiled boast about a woman he allegedly slept with. But Kavanaugh continues to deny all allegations; including in an interview to Fox News on September 25 when he and his wife, Ashley maintained his innocence.
"I've always treated women with dignity and respect."
In an exclusive interview on #TheStory, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh repeatedly denied accusations of sexual misconduct that have threatened to derail his confirmation. https://t.co/ZexbiQZjf2 pic.twitter.com/pQEKflPKW5
— Fox News (@FoxNews) September 25, 2018
There’s also a lot to unpack from the events of last week: hours of testimony from Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27, a vicious verbal attack from Trump against Ford on October 2, and the conclusion of the FBI investigation late on October 3.
Here’s everything you need to know about Brett Kavanaugh, the allegations against him and the status of his Supreme Court nomination—in reverse chronological order.
Senate advances Brett Kavanaugh towards final confirmation vote
After weeks of debate, a hearing, and an FBI investigation, the United States Senate voted majority “yes” to an important procedural vote this morning, allowing Brett Kavanaugh to move towards a possible final confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Just before 11 a.m. on October 5, the Senate voted 51 to 49 to stop any further debate on the topic of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and move to a final vote. That final vote on whether he will be officially inducted into the highest court in the country could happen as early as October 6.
And by 4 p.m. EST on October 5, Kavanaugh’s confirmation was pretty much a done deal, after two key undecided senators—Susan Collins and Joe Manchin—stated they would support him in the final vote.
The FBI investigation concludes
Following Kavanaugh and Ford testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27, the FBI conducted an investigation into Ford’s claims, and ended up interviewing nine individuals.
(The White House had initially requested that the FBI only interview four people: Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s alleged accomplice in the Ford assault; P.J. Smyth, one of Kavanaugh’s high school friends; Leland Keyser, a high school friend of Ford’s; and Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s who alleges that he exposed himself to her. But, following Democratic pushback, they later gave the FBI clearance to interview whomever they liked as long as the investigation was wrapped by October 5.)
On October 3, the White House said in a statement on Twitter that after examining a copy of the investigation, they are confident Kavanaugh will be confirmed. Senators will now examine the report throughout the day on October 4.
Trump and the G.O.P. shift to fully denouncing Ford
Trump had previously held back his opinions on Ford. But on October 2 he launched into attack mode at a rally in Mississippi, mocking Ford’s testimony, and stating that “A man’s life is in tatters. A man’s life is shattered.” He called those who have supported Ford’s case “evil people.” Also on October 2, Republican Senator Charles E. Grassley sent a letter to Ford’s lawyers, citing evidence that cast her credibility into doubt.
On October 3, Republican Senator Jeff Flake called the president’s comments “kind of appalling.”
The FBI investigation is ordered
On Friday, September 28, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11 to 10—with all of the Republican senators voting yes, and all of the Democratic senators voting no—to allow Kavanaugh’s nomination to proceed to a full vote of the entire legislative body (i.e. 100 senators). However, after Republican senator Jeff Flake added a condition to his “yes” vote—saying that he would only support the nomination if the full vote was delayed so an FBI investigation into the allegations could be conducted—the White House ordered a FBI probe. However, Trump noted in a statement that the investigation would be “limited in scope and completed in less than one week.”
On October 1, Trump elaborated on his position, saying he wants the FBI to do a “comprehensive” investigation, but that he stands by Kavanaugh “all the way.” According to the New York Times, the White House also requested that the FBI only question four witnesses: Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s alleged accomplice in the Ford assault, P.J. Smyth, one of Kavanaugh’s high school friends, Leland Keyser, a high school friend of Ford’s, and Ramirez.
What was the public’s reaction to these allegations?
Since the allegations were first revealed, women and allies across social media have been speaking out in support of Kavanaugh’s alleged victims.
Shortly after her identity was revealed, 200 women from Ford’s high school signed a public letter of support.
Scrolling through my various feeds, one word keeps popping up from the women I know:
— marisa kabas (@MarisaKabas) September 24, 2018
“We believe Dr. Blasey Ford and are grateful that she came forward to tell her story,” the letter reads. “It demands a thorough and independent investigation before the senate can reasonably vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest court.” In a tweet, actress Julia-Louis Dreyfus—an alum of the all-girls school that Ford attended—also offered her support.
I was class of ‘79 & signed this letter. https://t.co/5ssttu9uzT
— Julia Louis-Dreyfus (@OfficialJLD) September 17, 2018
And when everyone’s least favourite Twitter fiend weighed in—because obviously, he had to—the internet was *not* having it. On September 21, President Trump tweeted, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed.” (Trump himself has been accused by 22 women of sexual misconduct).
I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2018
Not only is this tweet incredibly trivializing and offensive, it’s just straight-up incorrect. Women who experience sexual violence often don’t report it immediately—if ever—for myriad reasons, including fear of retaliation from their abuser or fear of not being believed. In Canada, 53% of Canadian sexual violence survivors said they didn’t report incidents of sexual assault because they aren’t confident in the police, while two-thirds said they’re not confident in the court system.
Trump was wrong, and Twitter let him know it. There was immediate backlash as celebrities, advocates and everyday men and women shared their own stories of reporting alongside the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport.
I was 7 the first time I was sexually assaulted. He was a relative of my mom’s second husband. I told my folks and they sent me away. #WhyIDidntReport
— Padma Lakshmi (@PadmaLakshmi) September 21, 2018
Because I didn’t want to lose my job or make people think I was a drama queen. #WhyIDidntReport
— Lili Reinhart (@lilireinhart) September 21, 2018
In further backlash, the New York Times published a letter on October 3 signed by more than 1,000 law professors across the United States—including those from his own law school, Yale—titled “The Senate Should Not Confirm Kavanaugh.”
On September 24, the Montgomery County Sentinel reported that authorities had launched an investigation into “allegations made against Kavanaugh during his senior year in high school after an anonymous witness voluntarily came forward to speak with them this weekend.”
And hidden in an extensive piece by the New Yorker are several alarming revelations, among them an allegation by Judge’s university girlfriend of three years, Elisabeth Rasor. Judge has tried to paint his and Kavanaugh’s actions as youthful “horseplay,” but Rasor has a different take on Judge’s time at Georgetown Prep. Speaking to the publication, she alleges that Judge told her about his participation in an incident that involved him and other boys taking turns having sex with a drunk woman.
There is a gang rape allegation against Mark Judge in the story about the second misconduct allegation against Kavanaugh pic.twitter.com/4jGhy0OATk
— Zerlina Maxwell (@ZerlinaMaxwell) September 24, 2018
While Rasor acknowledges that she doesn’t know if Kavanaugh was involved in this particular incident, the story does contribute to a growing body of evidence that, while circumstantial, still indicates the Supreme Court nominee’s high school self wasn’t exactly a stand-up guy. And so does a September 24 New York Times report about a term—“Renate Alumnius”—that appears 14 times in Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook. According to the article, “the word ‘Renate’ appears… on individuals’ pages and in a group photo of nine football players, including Judge Kavanaugh, who were described as the ‘Renate Alumni.’ It is a reference to Renate Schroeder, then a student at a nearby Catholic girls’ school. Two of Judge Kavanaugh’s classmates say the mentions of Renate were part of the football players’ unsubstantiated boasting about their conquests.”
Interestingly, Renate Schroeder Dolphin was one of 65 women who sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month in support of Kavanaugh. It said, in part, that they believe Kavanaugh “has stood out for his friendship, character, and integrity. In particular, he has always treated women with decency and respect.”
She didn’t know about the references to “Renate Alumni” when she signed the letter, and now says “the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue.”
A third allegation
In addition to Ford and Ramirez’s allegations against Kavanaugh, an allegation of gang rape was brought forward by attorney Michael Avenatti, who tweeted on September 23 that he too has a client with “credible information regarding Judge Kavanaugh and Mark Judge.”
I represent a woman with credible information regarding Judge Kavanaugh and Mark Judge. We will be demanding the opportunity to present testimony to the committee and will likewise be demanding that Judge and others be subpoenaed to testify. The nomination must be withdrawn.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) September 23, 2018
On September 26, Avenatti revealed the identity of this woman. Julie Swetnick, now 55, says that she attended the same prep school parties as Kavanaugh in the 1980s, and “observed Brett Kavanaugh drink excessively at these parties and engage in abusive and physically aggressive behaviour towards girls, including pressing girls against him without their consent, ‘grinding’ against girls and attempting to remove or shift girls’ clothing to expose private body parts.” She also goes on to say she, “witnessed efforts by Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh and others to cause girls to become inebriated and disoriented so they could then be ‘gang-raped’ in a side room or bedroom by a ‘train’ of numerous boys… In approximately 1982, I became the victim of one of these ‘gang’ or ‘train’ rapes where Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh were present.”
A second allegation
On September 23, the New Yorker released a bombshell piece with a second allegation of sexual assault against the nominee—this time, from his college days. Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s, alleges that he exposed himself to her at a dormitory party during the 1983-84 school year, thrusting his penis in her face and causing her to touch it without her consent. Ramirez recalls sitting in a circle playing a drinking game, during which she says she quickly became intoxicated. “I remember a penis being in front of my face,” she told the publication. “I knew that’s not what I wanted, even in that state of mind.” After attempting to push the person away (amid cheers of “kiss it”), Ramirez says she unintentionally touched Kavanaugh’s penis—something that, as a devout Catholic, shook and embarrassed her. “I was… ashamed and humiliated,” she said.
She also told the New Yorker that she clearly remembers Kavanaugh—then a freshman—laughing and pulling up his pants, saying, “I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants.” A classmate of Ramirez’s, who declined to be identified, corroborated the incident, and said he is “100% sure” that Ramirez told him at the time that Kavanaugh was the person who exposed himself to her. Kavanaugh has further denied these allegations.
How credible is Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegation of sexual assault?
Extremely credible. Ford first disclosed details of the incident in 2012, while in couple’s therapy with her husband. While the therapist’s notes—which were shared by Ford—don’t mention Kavanaugh by name, they note she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys school,” who became “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” (The therapist’s notes also say Ford was attacked by four boys, which Ford says is an error on the therapist’s part). In a later interview, Ford’s husband told the Washington Post that he recalls his wife using Kavanaugh’s name directly, and fearing that he may one day be nominated to the Supreme Court. In addition, Ford took a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent, the results of which showed she was “being truthful” in regard to her allegations. Since her identity was revealed, the New York Times reports that Ford has received death threats and has relocated with her family.
It all began with a letter
Shortly after Kavanaugh’s nomination, on July 30, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California received a confidential letter from a woman alleging that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school party in the 1980s. On September 16, the accuser revealed herself as Dr. Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University. In the initial letter, as well as subsequent interview with the Washington Post, Ford describes an attempted rape in which Kavanaugh—who was two years older than Ford and then attending Georgetown Prep—allegedly pushed her into a bedroom, pinned her down and attempted to disrobe her while covering her mouth. Speaking to the Post, Ford alleges that both Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge were “maniacally” laughing during the assault. “They locked the door and played loud music precluding any successful attempt to yell for help,” Ford wrote in her initial letter. “With Kavanaugh’s hand over my mouth I feared he may inadvertently kill me.” Ford further alleges in the letter that Judge (whose name was initially redacted) said “mixed words to Kavanaugh,” ranging from “go for it” to “stop.” Ford says she was able to escape the room after Kavanaugh and Judge fell off the bed and started fighting with each other.
Ford—who initially contacted the Washington Post in July after Kavanaugh’s name appeared on the shortlist for the Supreme Court—feared speaking out on the record, worried about the effect it would have on her family. “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” she said. But, after being approached by reporters after the letter leaked, she came forward. “These are the ills that I was trying to avoid,” she told the Post. “Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation.”
However, in a statement sent to the Washington Post, Kavanaugh denied all allegations, writing:”I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.” In another statement issued after Ford’s identity was revealed, Kavanaugh once more denied the allegations: “This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or anyone.” He also went on to say he would be willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee to refute the “false allegation” and “defend [his] integrity.” Mark Judge has also denied the allegations against himself and Kavanaugh.
Who is Brett Kavanaugh?
The 53-year-old was born in D.C. and grew up in Maryland; he served as counsel and staff secretary for George W. Bush, before being confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2006. In his role with the Court of Appeals, he had final say in thousands of cases. According to the Washington Post, in his time on the circuit, Kavanaugh became known for his conservative views—especially when it came to abortion. In October 2017, he drew ire from some when he opposed a D.C. ruling that allowed a detained 17-year-old immigrant to receive an abortion. Of the 6-3 ruling, Kavanaugh said the majority had “badly erred” in their judgement, and wrote, “the government has permissible interests in favouring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating an abortion.”
In July 2018, after the retirement of longtime Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy, Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump, with Trump calling him, “one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time.” The Supreme Court is the nation’s highest court, with justices selected by the standing president and appointed for life (it’s also home to our badass #WCW Ruth Bader Ginsburg). Supreme Court justices are the final arbiters of the law, handling controversial and often precedent-setting cases, such as Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion rights case, and Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court case that struck down state laws banning interracial marriage in the United States. So, it’s a big deal to be elected. And just where elected justices stand, politically, is an even bigger deal. Kavanaugh’s nomination was met with vocal outcry from many Democrats and those on the left, who worry that a largely conservative court will affect many laws and rights. Many thought his confirmation was all-but-guaranteed, until the first allegation of sexual assault made headlines earlier this summer.