For many Americans, the past week was a profoundly difficult and complicated time. The events in D.C. and the discussions around them have been traumatizing, overwhelming, and inspiring. We saw one woman bravely step forward to give voice to what survivors of sexual violence have experienced across the country, then watched as many members of a deeply partisan Judiciary Committee failed to grasp the seriousness of her testimony. The news cycle and conversations surrounding Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination have become symbolic of our polarized political discourse and how far we have left to go in creating a society in which all voices are heard and survivors of sexual assault or harassment are not shamed for coming forward.

Even in the face of credible testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and calls from many experts–including the American Bar Association–to conduct a fuller investigation of allegations of sexual assault, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to push through Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation without investigation. This outcome would have constituted a painful failing of the Senate to perform its constitutional role–to advise and consent on nominations, namely, to manage the responsible vetting of nominees to the highest court in the land.  Moreover, the confirmation of an individual for a seat on the Supreme Court with pending and uninvestigated serious questions about his honesty and treatment of women would threaten the Court’s credibility and its standing with the public. This is a moment of truth for our nation–we cannot allow reports of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse to be swept under the rug, give up on the importance of equal justice under law, or tolerate the elevation of partisan objectives over constitutional principle.

Over the last week, the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh focused our nation on how the Senate handles allegations of sexual assault a generation after the Senate confirmed then-Judge Clarence Thomas in the face of Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment. As Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum asked about the Ford-Kavanaugh proceedings, “Why should we risk the possibility that a sex offender, albeit uncharged, could soon be sitting on the United States Supreme Court, when we have ample means available to conduct a full investigation of the allegations before making that decision?”

For victims and survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment, the consequences of reporting their experiences–or witnessing the repercussions to others who report–are often enough to keep them quiet.  (In using the term “victim” because of its use in the relevant legal context, I do so aware that many prefer the more accurate term “survivor,” because it captures their strength, courage, and refusal to be defined as a “victim.”) The #MeToo movement represents a challenge to this conspiracy of silence and a challenge to the (almost invariably) men who commit sexual misconduct and/or bully survivors into silence. I was in law school during the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings and remember a clear explanation by a professor of mine on why Anita Hill did not come forward earlier: her testimony would have jeopardized her career advancement, would have made her a pariah, and would have revictimized her through threats and other repercussions.

There is even a more fundamental issue raised by the hearings this week, which the #MeToo movement addresses: the shaming of victims. Many sexual assault and sexual harassment victims don’t come forward because they are led to believe they are at fault or that it’s “unfair” to “ruin the life” of an often-influential assailant (as was certainly the case this week), despite the fact that victims of sexual violence must live with the the trauma of their experiences for a lifetime. In how it chooses to handle this matter, the Senate will send a message–to millions of American women and men–about what will happen if and when victims report cases of sexual assault or sexual harassment.

For victims of sexual assault, particularly those victimized as children, it takes incredible courage to come forward. One former prosecutor stated that “I learned how much unexpected courage from a deep and hidden place it takes for a rape victim or sexually abused child to testify against their assailant.”

During the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing, that former prosecutor–Senator Lindsey Graham–and others cast aside these very insights as well as the lessons of the Thomas-Hill hearings in attempting to undermine the significance of Ford’s account and move for Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation without any further investigation or testimony of other key witnesses. In acting in this manner, a number of Senators sent a damaging message to all victims: your experience does not matter and should be ignored. In short, this attitude disrespects the powerful motivation Dr. Ford cited in her testimony: “My motivation in coming forward was to provide the facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you can take that into serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed.”

A lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be reserved for individuals who can make decisions that are viewed credibly and respectfully by the public. After all, the rule of law depends on our legal institutions operating outside the realm of partisan politics. The willingness of the Senate to rush through an appointment in the face of such serious questions demonstrates the power of partisanship over principle and a willingness to compromise the institutional credibility of the Supreme Court. And Judge Kavanaugh’s own testimony–in which defended himself in partisan terms–did not inspire confidence that he would place constitutional principle over partisan objectives if he was confirmed to the Supreme Court.

I refuse to give up on the cause of creating a world where victims of sexual violence are taken seriously and treated with the respect, integrity, and due process that their bravery demands. In this world, we would not automatically side with the allegations made by a victim–because due process means no one is judged without a fair investigation–but we would always honor the need to carefully investigate and consider such allegations. I also refuse to give up on the importance of the rule of law or the concept of principle over party. As the American Bar Association concluded: “Deciding to proceed without conducting additional investigation would not only have a lasting impact on the Senate’s reputation, but it will also negatively affect the great trust necessary for the American people to have in the Supreme Court.” Indeed, even in these hyper-polarized times, we have seen moments–worthy of being celebrated–of putting principle above party.

In this case, Senator Flake demonstrated what statesmanship looks like–he followed the counsel of the American Bar Association and others, refusing to support Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court without more careful investigation. This decision was inspired by the brave women who shared their stories with Senator Flake just before his decision, including one who confronted him in a Senate building elevator, stating:

I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me. I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter, that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them you are going to ignore them. That’s what happened to me, and that’s what you are telling all women in America, that they don’t matter. They should just keep it to themselves because if they have told the truth, you’re just going to help that man to power anyway.

In an action that underscores both the promise of protest and the capability for the Senate to engage in deliberation, Senator Flake took this message to heart and concluded that an FBI investigation was necessary. With the benefit of more investigation, the process can proceed with the promise of a minimal degree of fairness.

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Today’s politics is one where too many leaders are willing to remain silent, follow partisan pressures, or indulge in empty talking points.  This past week was one of those moments when the public could see how leaders behave—and hold those accountable who refuse to act responsibly.  The citizens who spoke out publicly and privately to Senator Flake made clear the stakes of ignoring a credible allegation of sexual assault. They also made plain the importance of listening to victims of sexual assault and harassment and bringing such conversations out of the shadows.  As our next Attorney General, I will work hard to lead an office that insists on and stands for the respectful and fair treatment of everyone–and supports and listens to the voices of victims who are too often ignored or dismissed.

Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP