Staff Columnist

Open letter to Sen. Grassley: Highest court demands a higher standard

Yes, Democrats performed political maneuvers. No, that doesn't discount assault claims.

Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) left, speaks to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, focusing on allegations of sexual assault by Kavanaugh against Christine Blasey Ford in the early 1980s. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) listens to the right. (Tom Williams/Pool/CQ Roll Call/Abaca Press/TNS)
Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) left, speaks to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, focusing on allegations of sexual assault by Kavanaugh against Christine Blasey Ford in the early 1980s. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) listens to the right. (Tom Williams/Pool/CQ Roll Call/Abaca Press/TNS)

Sen. Chuck Grassley, it’s not too late.

You and I both are lifelong Iowa Republicans. I have voted for you in the past, and you and your staff have always been helpful to me in my 10 years as a journalist. I openly praise your legislative work in this newspaper and elsewhere. I am thankful for your leadership in confirming Justice Neil Gorsuch, who quickly is becoming one of my favorite American legal figures. I have defended you to fellow Iowans, even through the difficult confirmation process you’re overseeing now.

My point is, I have no political or personal motives against you or the Republican majority, and least of all against the types of jurists President Donald Trump favors promoting. However, I cannot support the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. I hope you will oppose his nomination, and let the president nominate another conservative judge.

"I have no political or personal motives against you or the Republican majority, and least of all against the types of jurists President Donald Trump favors promoting."

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The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony last week from both Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault some 35 years ago. The Judiciary Committee narrowly voted Friday to advance the nomination. As of this writing, a final floor vote could happen next week.

We agree the accusations against Kavanaugh have not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But that’s not the point of these proceedings. There are no criminal charges against Kavanaugh related to the incident Ford describes.

The question at hand is not whether Kavanaugh should be incarcerated, or even whether he should lose his current job as a federal judge. The question, rather, is whether Kavanaugh is fit for a lifetime appointment to one of the most influential roles in our government. Americans in such a profound role must be held to a much higher standard than our celebrities or even our elected officials, a standard I myself surely couldn’t meet.

Kavanaugh kept reminding us during questioning last week he likes beer, and acknowledged he has sometimes over-consumed. He scoffed at concerns about the party lifestyle he admitted partaking in during his youth. Everyone does it, after all.

But you of all people, Senator, know not everyone does it. You’ve told reporters you never tasted beer and only slept with one woman in your life, Barbara, your wife of more than 60 years. I believe you, and I bet even most Iowans who disagree with your politics believe it as well.

A spotless reputation is not too much to ask for a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Ford’s testimony — which you say is credible — aligns closely enough with verifiable facts about Kavanaugh’s youth to be plausible.

Republican Senators and the outside prosecutor hired to assist in questioning focused many of their questions last week on the Democrats’ handling of Ford’s story, rather than the sexual assault allegation itself. Their questions revealed one of Ford’s lawyers came from a referral by Senate Democrats, noted Democrats’ delay in reporting accusations they knew about, and questioned whether Ford is receiving outside monetary support.

During his opening remarks, Kavanaugh fiercely denied the case against him, calling it a “calculated and orchestrated political hit.” He alleged the ordeal has been propelled with millions in outside money, a backlash against Trump and revenge for Hillary Clinton.

I worry our fellow Republicans were distracted by Democrats’ apparent mishandling. No amount of political maneuvering by the opposition could pre-empt the validity of Ford’s account.

The most extreme theory is that Democrats conspired with Ford to fabricate the story, but there’s no evidence to support this claim. Short of that, even the most cynical yet plausible telling — Ford is earnest, but has been seized as a pawn by liberals, who hijacked the process for political gain — does not diminish the credibility of her testimony.

This process has been imperfect, fraught with political posturing. The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have acted in a calculated manner to maximize their political capital. Members of the media have been unfair and even irresponsible.

None of that is grounds to dismiss Ford’s accusations.

The good news is there are plenty of qualified judges who share our values and our understanding of the Constitution. Trump has a list of more than a dozen judges with backing from conservative legal groups. The president says all of them are “very terrific people,” and we know most of them would not draw the troubling allegations Kavanaugh now faces.

Sen. Grassley, you have a long and rightly celebrated record of public service. A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released last week shows 50 percent of Iowans approve of your job performance, an accomplishment on its own amid a highly contentious confirmation process in our divisive political climate. The same poll, conducted before last week’s hearings, showed just 37 percent of Iowans think Kavanaugh should be confirmed.

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From one Iowan to another, I ask that you don’t vote to approve a man facing credible sexual assault allegations to the Supreme Court. Our republic, the greatest the world has ever known, deserves better.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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