The partisan debate over the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court manifested in the form of a student-led demonstration on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie Wednesday.
A gathering of around 20 people, mostly UW students, held signs and chanted slogans in front of Ross Hall near the south end of Prexy’s Pasture. They looked to draw attention to their opposition to Kavanaugh’s anticipated confirmation by the U.S. Senate this week, citing concerns over decades-old allegations of sexual assault and misconduct from multiple accusers.
The most prominent and first accusation, brought by Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, saw Ford testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week before Kavanaugh angrily defended himself in subsequent testimony. Ford gave her account of an incident from when she and Kavanaugh were in high school. She alleges the Republicans’ Supreme Court nominee drunkenly attempted to rape her.
UW student Rebecca Franke said was compelled to demonstrate against Kavanaugh’s confirmation because she believes survivors of sexual assault, including Ford and the other two woman who have come forward with accusations of inappropriate behavior by the judge.
“(Kavanaugh) is unfit to sit on the Supreme Court,” Franke said.
The accusations against Kavanaugh have, as with many other cases in recent months, raised issues of bad sexual behavior and violence in general. Many see the mostly women coming forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against male perpetrators as indicative of a societal problem that has long gone unaddressed. Others, however, view it as a tactic to take down powerful men. Even President Donald Trump said recently it’s “a very scary time for young men in America” who may face accusations.
For Franke, Wednesday’s demonstration spoke to the larger issue of what many see as dismissals of sexual misconduct against powerful men.
“If we dismiss these acts and allow them to take positions of power, it is dismissing their victims and telling them their trauma is not significant,” she said.
Jaxson Heyrend is a conservative-leaning UW student who contributes to the online publication Media With Merit. Heyrend said he wasn’t aware there was a demonstration taking place Wednesday against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but didn’t think it was an effective strategy for affecting policy issues.
“They’re more than entitled to their opinion, they’re entitled to their right to protest it,” Heyrend said. “Is it the right way to protest it? No. … If you want your opinions to be heard, go out and vote. Don’t go out and protest and expect things to change right away. It’s a process and you have to follow the process.”
Franke said it was obvious that the demonstrators overwhelmingly leaned to the political left, but said sexual assault shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It’s unfortunate, she said, that the line between those supporting and opposing Kavanaugh’s confirmation are being drawn along political lines.
“Basically everyone here is a Democrat or more liberally-minded, so that just associates the support (of sexual assault survivors) with people who are Democrats,” she said. “So if you’re a Republican or more conservative and you see a bunch of liberals standing around with signs, you say, ‘Oh, I’m against that.’ But really, it’s just a human issue.”
Heyrend agreed its important to support survivors of sexual assault. When it comes to Ford’s accusation, he said he believes she was assaulted by someone. However, Heyrend said congressional Democrats’ attacks on Kavanaugh have not been fair, assuming his guilt and in an 11th hour attempt to block his confirmation. The timing with bringing the accusation forward by Democratic Senate Judiciary member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., he said, was suspicious.
“In this country, we cannot assume Judge Kavanaugh is a rapist,” Heyrend said. “If there needs to be an FBI investigation, then I’m all for it, but it shouldn’t halt the tracks of the confirmation.”
With Laramie thousands of miles away from Washington, D.C., Franke said she hoped the demonstration would reach survivors of sexual assault on campus, as well as others who may be skeptical of Kavanaugh’s accusers.
“We want to show survivors of sexual assault that there are people who stand by them, as well as others who may be on the fence as to where they stand that there is a legitimate backing to Dr. Ford and these other women’s claims,” Franke said.
Federal law enforcement is currently investigating the claims against Kavanaugh, but is expected to conclude by the end of the week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kty., has made clear he intends to hold a vote on the confirmation by Friday. At least two Senate Republicans would need to cross the aisle and vote against Kavanaugh to block his confirmation. None had given any indication they would vote against the confirmation as of press time Wednesday.