The lone remaining Republican swing vote in the battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh announced her support for the judge on Friday, saying she believed one of his accusers but that the allegations of sexual assault against him did not meet the “more-likely-than-not” threshold she required to sink his confirmation.
Susan Collins, R-Maine, seemed to refer to a theory first broached by a Washington Post columnist and later promoted by conservative pundits and Kavanaugh himself: Perhaps the accusations against the judge were a case of mistaken identity.
In a carefully choreographed, nearly hour-long address, Collins described the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who told lawmakers last month that Kavanaugh assaulted her in the early 1980s, as “sincere, painful and compelling.”
“I believe that she is a survivor of a sexual assault, and that this trauma has upended her life,” Collins said in the speech.
But Collins stopped short of saying she believed Ford’s testimony entirely. Ford told lawmakers last month that she was “100 percent” sure that Kavanaugh was the person who assaulted her.
Collins raised doubts about that part of Ford’s testimony, noting that Kavanaugh “forcefully” denied the allegation, and that a number of alleged witnesses could not corroborate that the incident occurred.
“The facts presented do not mean that professor Ford was not sexually assaulted that night or at some other time,” Collins said. “But they do lead me to conclude that the allegations fail to meet the more-likely-than-not standard.”
In his own opening statement to lawmakers last month, Kavanaugh also raised the possibility of mistaken identity. He said he was not “questioning that Dr. Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time.” But, he said, he never sexually assaulted anybody.
Lawmakers have been caught in the midst of the #MeToo movement, which has spread a spotlight on sexual abuse. The movement has also led to tension in cases where the evidence is uncertain, as Americans weigh the movement’s emphasis on believing those who say they are victims of sexual abuse against the rights of the accused to a presumption of innocence.
Collins noted that the Senate confirmation process was not a criminal trial but said that “certain fundamental legal principles about due process, the presumption of innocence and fairness do bear on my thinking.”
While she blasted the confirmation process as a “caricature of a gutter-level political campaign,” she said that if any good had come out of the process it is that more attention would be paid to the problem of sexual violence.
“Every person, man or woman, who makes a charge of sexual assault deserves to be heard and treated with respect,” Collins said. “The #MeToo movement is real. It matters. It is needed and long overdue.”
But Collins said that the confirmation process had raised questions about Ford’s account. For instance, she said that it was still not clear who drove Ford to the party at which she claims Kavanaugh assaulted her. She also said it was odd that none of her friends called her the next day.
“Even though she left that small gathering of six or so people abruptly, and without saying goodbye, and distraught, none of them called her the next day or ever to ask why she left, is she okay,” Collins said. “Not even her closest friend, Ms. Keyser.”
In announcing her support for Kavanaugh, Collins effectively ensured that he would be confirmed to the Supreme Court. The final confirmation vote is expected to come as early as Saturday.
Trump appointed Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy in July. Kennedy had long served as the court’s swing vote, particularly in civil rights cases. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court would solidify a conservative majority on the court for the foreseeable future.