The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The worst thing that could happen with the Kavanaugh hearings

A group of demonstrators protest the nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh outside the Supreme Court building in Washington on Monday. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

If there is anything the #MeToo movement should have taught everyone, it is that women who have personal stories of sexual abuse should be listened to, and that their courage in coming forward should be respected.

But it does not necessarily follow that all of their accounts will turn out to be persuasive. Or that it is reasonable to demand the same amount of evidence in cases that involve different sets of circumstances.

All accusations should be viewed with caution, some with a higher degree than others. The latter is true in the case of a woman who has emerged as the second accuser of Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh whose story was published Sunday night in the New Yorker, says Kavanaugh exposed his penis and thrust it toward her face while playing a drinking game during their freshman year. As she pushed him away, Ramirez claims, she touched his genitals, something she did not intend or wish to do.

Kavanaugh has vehemently denied both her accusation and an earlier one, saying in a letter Monday to leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee that they are “smears” and vowing that “the coordinated effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out.”

Follow Karen Tumulty's opinionsFollow

There are many threads in common in the accounts from Ramirez and Christine Blasey Ford, a high school acquaintance of Kavanaugh whose allegation that he attempted to rape her came to light in The Post on Sept. 16.

Both involve incidents that are alleged to have happened decades ago. Both describe Kavanaugh as having been extremely intoxicated.

And both have asked that the FBI look into their claims — which suggests the two women believe what they are saying and that additional investigation could help prove it. Given that such an inquiry could be completed in a matter of days, it is a reasonable request.

Ford and Ramirez also have something else in common: Both are coming under blistering criticism from Kavanaugh supporters over their failure to produce witnesses who could substantiate their claims.

It is easy to understand why Ford would be unable to find that kind of corroboration, given that she has alleged a furtive assault in a bedroom while a party was going on in another part of a house, the precise location of which she cannot recall more than 35 years later.

Only one other person — Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge — was in the room, she has said. And while Judge has denied he ever saw Kavanaugh act as Ford described, he also has written that his own high school days included a series of drunken blackouts. Given all of this, the refusal of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) to require Judge to testify is bewildering.

Also adding to Ford’s credibility is the fact that she had described her memory of Kavanaugh’s behavior to her husband and her therapist in 2012.

Less explicable is Ramirez’s inability to find people who can back up her account of an episode she claims happened during a drinking game in the common room of a dormitory suite. Indeed, she has acknowledged that her own memory is full of gaps, which may be a function of having been inebriated.

Marc Thiessen

counterpointAs the March for Life returns, we owe Brett Kavanaugh a debt of gratitude

The New Yorker’s decision to publish the story is questionable, given the paucity of corroboration for an incident that would have had so many witnesses and no doubt created a buzz in the gossip-charged environment of a college dormitory.

Still, journalists Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer deserve credit for highlighting the weak spots in her account, even as they have argued for its credibility. There is also the possibility that taking Ramirez’s story public may bring out witnesses that she and the New Yorker authors were unable to locate before the article was published.

The problematic nature of Ramirez’s account has not reduced the necessity for senators to keep an open mind as Ford and Kavanaugh tell their stories in their own words on Thursday before the Judiciary Committee.

A Senate confirmation does not — and should not — operate on the same principles as a jury trial. It is not a process to determine whether someone is guilty beyond a reasonable a doubt, but whether that person has the right character and qualifications to hold an office with lifetime tenure.

Evidence doesn’t always come delivered in neat, watertight packages. It is in everyone’s interest — including Kavanaugh’s — that it be given a fair hearing.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has promised that “we’re going to plow right through it.”

At this point, that is the worst thing that could happen.

Read more:

Paul Waldman: Yes, the Supreme Court is facing a legitimacy crisis. And we know exactly whose fault it is.

E.J. Dionne Jr.: The Kavanaugh confirmation is a festival of misdirection and ugliness

George F. Will: The Supreme Court was America’s least damaged institution — until now

Steven Petrow: Her name is Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Use it.