William & Mary

Students, Faculty Discuss Supreme Court Hearing

Following the testimony of both Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and then nominee Brett Kavanaugh, students gathered to discuss these hearings with a panel of three faculty members. Claire McKinney (Assistant Professor of Government and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies), Christine Nemacheck (Associate Professor of Government, Director of Center for the Liberal Arts), and Jennifer Putzi (Associate Professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies), answered student questions and encouraged discussions surrounding the hearing.

Professor McKinney addressed a student concerned with the lack of “hard evidence” to back up Dr. Ford’s testimony, explaining the difference between the hearings and a criminal trial. Unlike a criminal trial, a Congressional hearing poses no threat to freedoms of the “accused.” The hearings, which act as job interviews, do not decide if the nominee can continue their current life, or even if they keep their current job, but simply if they gain the new position, in this case a promotion to the Supreme Court.

Professor McKinney went on to explain that in sexual assault cases, the bar for evidence is much higher than in other types of crimes. She cited the example of a stolen wallet – the victim points out the thief, and the criminal is arrested. However, in the case of sexual assault, there is a culture of doubting the victim, expecting them to prove the identity of the perpetrator.

This led to a discussion of the very gendered nature of the testimony given by both Dr. Ford and then nominee Kavanaugh. Professor Putzi observed that the testimony illuminated “the hollowness of the rewards for women performing their [gender] roles,” as despite giving a feminine performance, Dr. Ford’s testimony is disregarded, while in giving a masculine performance, Kavanaugh gains a promotion.

Professor Nemacheck does not see this shift or the hearings surrounding the Kavanaugh nomination having any effect on the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. Over time, though there are occasional declines in pubic opinion regarding the legitimacy of the court (in recent memory, the Anita Hill hearings), within an election cycle these views return to the status quo and the court overall survives unaffected.

Near the close of the discussion, a student questioned the role of women such as Kelly Anne Conway, who gave a statement declaring that she has experienced sexual assault yet blames herself, in the conversation surrounding sexual assault. Professor McKinney responded, saying that despite Conway’s discrediting of her own experience, it is still best to support and listen to her, as attacking her further damages female solidarity.