Tribune editorial: Senate is right to call a time-out on Kavanaugh

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about an investigation, Friday, Sept. 28, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

All involved need some time to clean the mud from their clothing. So it was good news indeed that the Senate has agreed to the request from Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to put off the confirmation vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for at least a week while the pros at the FBI take focused look at the sexual assault allegations raised against the nominee.

The emotional roller coaster that was Thursday’s Judiciary Committee hearing was painful for millions of Americans.

So many of us, not only women, were moved to tears, or to anger, as they saw themselves in the calm but heartfelt testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who resolutely claims that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when both of them were teenagers. Others found the emotional, sometimes angry, response from Kavanaugh to be compelling, imagining the anger they might feel if, as the nominee claims, they were being falsely defamed for partisan reasons.

Actually, Kavanaugh’s behavior before the committee — his anger, his argumentative responses to the Democrats, particularly the female Democrats, and their questions — demonstrated anything but a judicial temperament. His vision of himself as the vicim of a partisan conspiracy from “the left” or from Bill and Hillary Clinton suggests that a great many cases that would come before him as a member of the Supreme Court will not get a fair hearing.

There is a strong argument to be made that Kavanaugh’s tenure on the court, if he has one, will forever be under a cloud of partisanship that would besmirch the whole institution for many years to come. That realization could well move the Republican leaders of the Senate, President Trump, or even Kavanaugh himself, to withdraw his nomination in favor of another jurist of an equally conservative bent but without credible allegations of sexual wrongdoing forever hovering over him.

At the same time, however, there is a high likelihood that, should Kavanaugh not be confirmed, a significant, and vocal, portion of the nation will carry a grudge against the system. That they will agree with Kavanaugh and his defenders that it has become too easy to assassinate anyone’s character by leveling unproven, even unprovable, allegations of sexual misconduct.

Enter the FBI.

A week is not a great deal of time to run down the truth about things alleged to have occurred years or decades ago. If the agency says it needs more time to make a valid report, the Senate should grant it. But the fact that the Senate leadership has agreed to even this much of a stand-down, when as recently as Friday morning they were insisting on a final vote as early as Monday, is progress.

And, meanwhile, while all of this is going on, someone should make sure Utah’s exceedingly senior senator, Orrin Hatch, finds himself nowhere near a microphone or a reporter’s notebook. Every time Hatch opens his mouth to say anything about this case, he casts serious doubt upon his own judgment. Such was the case the other day when he described Ford as an “attractive” and “pleasing” witness.

A one-week cooling off period might not solve this mess. But it is still a good idea.

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