The Brett Kavanaugh hearing proved to be a far more divisive affair than anyone could have imagined and the fear we are feeling is immediate. Everything is happening so fast and with no sign of slowing down. A conservative majority in the Supreme Court would have the power to shake up the current legal makeup of our country in a way that would negatively affect millions of women, particularly, young minority women forced to live in the rural, conservative-controlled corners of our country that, some would argue, have the standards of living of a Third World Country.
Even though our Supreme Court still maintains some liberal strongholds, many women have already felt the negative side effects of conservative legal agendas. Restricted access to healthcare and family planning clinics, the occasional outright refusal to provide birth control or Plan B, conservative law makers would not interpret any of these impediments as undue. In fact, many would argue these measures protect women.
Throughout the hearing, and the succeeding weeks after the hearing was closed to the public, Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, has consistently demonstrated a lack of empathy for women and an utter disinterest in the events that would render their lives economically unviable. What’s more, we have watched Kavanaugh’s all-American, good boy reputation from high school eclipse a very serious attempted rape allegation, propagating the dangerous message that women are not to be trusted and boys will be boys.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation and Supreme Court seat will mean dire things for women. His voice and his views will help round out an anti-choice echo that has steadily gained strength, and the repercussions will, most likely, be relatively immediate. I worry however, that his confirmation and subsequent use of anti-choice, conservative rhetoric could also mean dire things for the law farther into the future than any of us are able to see.
In 1961, a woman was arrested in Connecticut for distributing contraception to a married couple via one of the first Planned Parenthood clinics in the country. Connecticut’s courts failed to recognized the couple’s right to privately choose how to plan for a family because it violated a 19th Century state law that banned the use of contraception among married couples. The case was brought to the Supreme Court and, in 1965, the justices ruled in favor of the couple, siting various penumbras from the First, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments that, they interpreted, gave citizens the right to their privacy.
The Griswold V Connecticut case was seen as rather silly by the justices on the Supreme Court at the time. Justice Douglas concluded: "Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship." The decision was almost unanimously in favor of marital privacy, with a 7-2 final ruling, and, as a result, the Connecticut law was reversed.
The Griswold case was later called on by the Supreme Court to pass laws legalizing gay marriage, abortion, and even the right for juveniles and non-married couples to access contraception. Sufficient to say, the Griswold Decision was a very important ruling and demonstrates the kind of eternal influence our laws can have over the domestic lives of citizens.
Interpretation eternalizes language, and there were many moments, throughout the hearing, in which Kavanaugh leaned on his conservatism to misrepresent the experiences of women choosing to exercise prudence over their reproductive health.
When Senator Ted Cruz asked Kavanaugh about his participation in a case regarding a religious employer’s right to refuse providing birth control to employees, Kavanaugh referred to contraception as “abortion-inducing drugs”. The jury is still out as to whether or not the use of the phrase was derived from his personal views or if he was referring to the opinion of the religious group in the case. Nevertheless, Judge Kavanaugh’s gross mislabeling of this incredibly common medication signals that he lacks a fundamental understanding of what birth control is and a willingness to misconstrue.
When a ruling on a private matter is used as the vehicle for undue burden and control, that ruling becomes a weapon. Justices that demonstrate a lack of empathy for their citizens with the use of unnecessarily divisive language, are liable to introduce this rhetoric into law, inviting further misinterpretation that could fundamentally change rights.
Whether or not Kavanaugh’s use of this phrase was an accident or an unfortunate side effect of nerves, we may never know. But, in light of his reaction to the recent sexual assault allegations, and his purported engagement in disturbing activities at High School parties, I think we can safely assume that this attitude towards women will, in one way or another, make its way into many of his Supreme Court rulings if he is confirmed.
As Dr. Blasey Ford testifies today, her words will inadvertently be skewed by parties and individuals to embolden their respective positions on the matter of Brett Kavanaugh's nomination. And, similarly to the level of unpredictability that has shaped our political climate over the past two years, there is no way to foresee how the reaction, not Blasey Ford's testimony, will disqualify her assailant. What is clear however, is that, regardless of one's political leanings, the country is heavily invested in the outcome of these proceedings, and tentatively hanging on every word.