From 10 a.m. on September 27 to 2 p.m. on September 28, the nation watched in either anger or fear as the United States Senate Judiciary Committee determined the fate of Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Judge Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior by multiple women during his time in high school and college, has survived a cutthroat vote in committee and is now a single step away from serving on the highest court in the country for the remainder of his life. Many might see this vote as a crushing defeat for the rights of sexual assault and rape survivors, but an astonishing last minute decision has given many the belief that not all hope was lost.
Minutes before the committee was set to vote without incident to move the confirmation to the Senate floor, whispers began to emerge among the senators in attendance. It was soon noticed by many in the room that some senators had left their seats. Then, without warning or explanation, the committee was abruptly interrupted as the remaining members of the committee, exited into back rooms on both sides of the committee meeting room. People could do little more than hold their breath as they awaited any information from the committee as to what was happening before their very eyes. It was then made clear that one member of the committee in particular was responsible for this unanticipated turn of events.
It was then learned that Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who had announced that very morning he was going to vote in favor of Judge Kavanaugh, had changed his mind at the very last minute by adding an unexpected caveat to his vote. Senator Flake made it clear that he would not vote for Kavanaugh on the final vote on the Senate floor without there first being a week-long FBI investigation into the allegations. This move shocked many in Washington as well as those watching at home or at work as this republican senator sided with his democrat counterparts in calling for an investigation. Many attribute this change of heart to the two survivors of sexual assault who confronted the senator after he made his statement of support while he was on his way to the committee meeting later in the morning. Others attribute the change to the testimony of the accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, along with the statements of support made by democratic members of the committee.
While unexpected, there was technically no requirement or official agreement that Senator Flake's request actually be met, but since he is one of three republican senators whose votes are crucial to pass the nomination, his request was met almost immediately. The party leadership knows that they must have at least fifty votes to get the nominee confirmed (this being with Vice President Mike Pence casting a vote to break the 50-50 tie in the Senate). With only 51 republican senators, they can only afford to lose the vote of just one of those senators in order to stay above that threshold number. Without Senator Flake's vote, the majority party risks having the nomination fail as two other republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, state their agreement with Senator Flake that there should be an FBI investigation prior to the vote occurring in the Senate.
There is no way to know where these events will lead to in the coming weeks. However, one thing we know now for certain is that the events that have occurred over these two days described here will be recorded in numerous future history books as a turning point in both United States politics and society as accusers of sexual assault were handed, in the tiniest of margins, a significant victory for having their voices heard and claims taken seriously by those in power. One can only hope that the road we as a country take from here will be one of significant progress and not that of disgrace.