Vicki Schmidt and Suzanne Lindberg remember the day Brett Kavanaugh became a Supreme Court Justice like it was yesterday.
But how the Wisconsin women remember the events leading to his confirmation a year ago are starkly different.
As President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, Kavanaugh’s confirmation was cruising for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee only to be rocked by allegations of sexual assault made by psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford.
Outrage blew up across the political spectrum in the heightened climate of the #MeToo movement, protests flooded outside of the hearings and emotional testimonies were given by Ford followed by Kavanaugh, who forcefully denied any wrongdoing.
The events surrounding Kavanaugh’s ascension to the Supreme Court manifested an already divided nation with protests lasting for weeks after the Senate narrowly voted 50-48 to confirm Kavanaugh, who was sworn in as the court’s 114th Justice on Oct. 6, 2018.
Schmidt of Oshkosh remembers the time as a low point for women’s credibility.
“I am still unhappy with the results and feel that Kavanaugh’s confirmation only reinforced the idea that women are not to be believed,” Schmidt said. “It really horrifies me to a certain degree that we would be willing to treat women like that who are coming forward with those kind of stories.”
Lindberg of De Pere had a vastly different viewpoint, saying it was a political smear campaign against an innocent man.
“I have never witnessed such a totally corrupt group that would have no limits on the lack of morals and decency that I observed during the hearings,” Lindberg said. “Watching the needless suffering of his family (is) forever cemented in my mind.”
Earlier this week, the New York Times published new information about sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh reigniting the feud about him. Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have called for his impeachment from the Supreme Court. Trump and several prominent Republicans came to Kavanaugh’s defense.
The newspaper later ran an update to the story saying the alleged victim in the story said she did not recall the events described and refused to be interviewed.
The Women’s March plans to hold a protest against Kavanaugh on the one year anniversary of his confirmation.
In the aftermath of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, studies show public opinion of the Supreme Court dropped. The Pew Research Center found partisan views of the court have reached its widest gap in more than two decades.
An unscientific survey by the Post-Crescent and USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin asked people how they feel about Kavanaugh’s confirmation process a year out. It generated more than 400 responses from across the country.
The survey showed an even split between those who support Kavanaugh and those who oppose him.
Yet a majority shared concerns about the Supreme Court becoming too politicized in a heightened climate of partisan politics.
“Kavanaugh may or may not vote the way I would like him to, but that is beside the point,” said Steve Hermes of Kimberly. “His confirmation destroyed forever the integrity of the process and thus, the integrity of an unbiased, honorable Supreme Court.”
Battle heightened worries about high court’s independence
Ed Skerke of Neenah said the hearings made him change his personal political views and he’s lost faith in the Republican Party for sticking by Kavanaugh.
“I would consider myself an independent with conservative leaning up until the Kavanaugh hearing,” Skerke said. “I was so disgusted by what I saw during the hearing. The Republican Party will have to work very hard to get my vote.”
Roger Vander Logt of Manitowoc County said despite being a Democrat, he was offended by the way Kavanaugh and his family were treated in the midst of the allegations.
“I will never, ever support people that do that to another human being and his or her family,” Vander Logt said. “I’ll never vote for another Democrat ever.”
Ryan Owens, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said putting the court on party lines threatens its legitimacy.
“These hyper-partisan confirmation battles we have these days certainly are not good for the court (and) for peoples’ perceptions of the court,” Owens said.
Unlike other political institutions, the Supreme Court functions as an independent branch of government. With nine justices on the court appointed for life, it acts as the final arbiter of the law through interpretation of the Constitution.
Owens said when members of Congress and the president attack the court, it undermines its independence and that it’s dangerous for presidential candidates to promise to appoint certain types of judges.
“Judging is supremely different than regular politicking and I think when our politicians dumb it down to us vs. them dynamic, that does the court a disservice and frankly, it does the rule of law in this country a disservice,” Owens said.
Many women struck by Kavanaugh’s confirmation
In the wake of the allegations against Kavanaugh, women across the country took to social media platforms, revisiting their own experiences with sexual harassment and assault, and using hashtags like #WhyIdidntreport to support Ford. Following Ford’s allegations claiming the judge had sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school, two other women accused Kavanaugh of misconduct.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed nine people and found “no corroboration of the allegations” of sexual misconduct against him.
Jane Hayes of Oshkosh said she wished an investigation into Kavanaugh’s past went further than it had and called his confirmation an “insult to women everywhere.”
“An appointment to the Supreme Court is for life, and should be treated more seriously than this,” Hayes said.
Schmidt said she felt Ford was treated unfairly in her testimony and her own personal experiences helped her empathize with her.
“Anybody that has been a victim of sexual assault at any point at their lives and I can tell you this from my personal experience as well, it never goes away. It’s there with you forever,” Schmidt said. “For her to be willing to come to Washington and speak in front of the Judiciary Committee, I thought she was very brave to do so and just thought she was very poorly received.”
Many women also stood by Kavanaugh and worried about what the #MeToo climate could mean for their sons and husbands.
A letter in defense of Kavanaugh’s character rejecting the allegations was signed by 65 women who knew him and sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee almost immediately after the first accusation came to light.
Janice Huguet of Green Bay said the debacle reminded her of Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation who was accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill in 1991.
“Disgraceful on many levels,” Huguet said. “The Democrats had a mob mentality to persecute for political partisanship that any parent that has a son should be frightened of.”
Cynthia Koffman of Eden, who supports Kavanaugh, noted that the justice has made hiring women on his staff a priority.
“I’m even happier that he is on the court especially since he is the first ever to have an all-female staff,” Koffman said.
Where the Supreme Court stands today
Alongside Kavanaugh and Thomas, members of the Supreme Court include Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch. It has a 5-4 conservative majority.
This year, the court struck down the Trump administration’s plan to ask a citizenship question in the 2020 census and ruled that partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts can’t be limited by federal courts, both of which fell along ideological lines.
Owens said Roberts acts as the median justice in the current court, but as a 5-4 conservative court, he doesn’t expect it to function very differently than it did with Kennedy. Kavanaugh has also been more moderate than expected in his first year on the court.
“He’s joined with the liberals in some cases, he’s joined with the conservatives in others, but he hasn’t pushed doctrine far to the right or anything at this point,” Owens said. “A lot of folks, they get on the court their first year, they’re a little bit quieter.”
The structure of the court has also been talked about on the 2020 campaign trail with some Democratic candidates saying they would be open to expanding the number of justices on the court or proposing term limits on judges.
Whether the future of the court will play a role for voters in 2020, Owens thinks the election will more likely act as a referendum on Trump’s presidency than on the makeup of the court.
“I’d say it’s probably not going to be the key factor but we’ll see what happens,” he said.