How would the Senate proceed if its highest priority were establishing the truth? That objective should be paramount with regard to the allegation that Brett Kavanaugh, at age 17, tried to rape a 15-year-old girl. Getting the truth is the most important thing for Christine Blasey Ford, the alleged victim, but also for Kavanaugh.
Unless, of course, he is guilty. In that case, the best outcome for the nominee is a quick, minimal inquiry that lets him skate past the charges and onto the Supreme Court. The way Senate Republicans are handling the matter suggests they are afraid of what they will learn if the digging goes too deep.
Would Democrats prefer to delay his confirmation vote in hopes of gaining seats in the Senate in November? Of course. Would Republicans prefer to vote sooner in case they lose control of the chamber? Sure. In a political environment, political motives are inevitable.
But how would Republicans behave if such accusations had surfaced about a nominee chosen by a Democratic president? It's hard to say they would favor a speedy resolution. They postponed the vote on Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, who was accused of no crime, until the twelfth of never.
With Ford, they have been models of chilly condescension. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, "I'll listen to the lady, but we're going to bring this to a close." As for Ford's request to postpone her appearance until the FBI can investigate, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, scoffed that she is "not really in a position to make conditions."
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley insists on hearing from her Monday. "Nothing the FBI or any investigator does would have any bearing on what Dr. Ford tells the committee, so there is no reason for any further delay," he said.
Really? Any evidence unearthed by an investigation would have a bearing on what questions she is asked, what answers she might give, and how the senators assess her veracity.
Politics aside, what is the rush when the allegations are so grave? Yes, the alleged episode involved adolescents, but we're not talking about popping a bra strap. We're talking about a claim that Kavanaugh tried to violently rape a 15-year-old girl and, had she not resisted, would have raped her. But his defenders show a bizarre lack of curiosity about whether the attack happened and a desire to minimize it if it did.
A full investigation could yield details that could be examined to assess the credibility of Ford's account and Kavanaugh's denial. It could elicit information from Mark Judge, the Kavanaugh friend she says was present during the attack, who, his lawyer says, "does not wish to speak publicly regarding the incidents described in Dr. Ford's letter." An unhurried timetable would also allow time for any other professed victims to come forward.
But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, indicated the accusation was irrelevant. "If that was true, I think it would be hard for senators to not consider who the judge is today" - which, Hatch attested, is "a really good man."
In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Lance Morrow, a fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, put an intellectual gloss on this approach. If the attack occurred, he argued with majestic serenity, it doesn't really matter, because it happened long ago "under the blurring influence of alcohol and adolescent hormones. No clothes were removed, and no sexual penetration occurred. The sin, if there was one, was not one of those that Catholic theology calls peccata clamantia — sins that cry to heaven for vengeance."
I'll let Catholic theologians to make that call. But no one is calling for vengeance. The worst Kavanaugh may endure is being denied a coveted job promotion.
His supporters act as though he deserves confirmation unless he can be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But the standard that applies for sending someone to prison is higher than the standard for sending someone to the Supreme Court. Douglas Ginsburg had to withdraw in 1987 because he had smoked marijuana, which even then was considered less serious than rape.
The Senate should spare no time or effort to get as close to the truth as possible, and let the chips fall where they may. For an innocent man to be denied a seat on the Supreme Court would be a shame. For a guilty one to be confirmed would be a crime.
Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.