What’s your confidence level in the accuracy of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually attacked her when she was 15 and he was 17 in the early 1980s?
From zero — she’s making it all up or is delusional — to 100 — her account would match perfectly with a video recording of the event, had one been made — I’m at about 95.
The story she tells is that Kavanagh and his friend Mark Judge, both highly intoxicated, pulled her into a bedroom during a party, and that Kavanaugh pinned her down, groped her, tried to remove her bathing suit and, when she tried to yell for help, covered her mouth with his hand. She escaped into a bathroom and locked the door only after Judge jumped into the action and sent all three sprawling.
Yes, some details are missing — Ford can’t remember the date and location of the party, for instance. And others may be inaccurate — researchers have found that human memory is far from perfect, even when recalling events that at the time seem indelible.
But the ring of truth here is more like a gong: Her therapist has notes that show Ford talked about the incident six years ago. She began circulating her story anonymously before President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh and his was just a name on the short list. She took and passed a (legally inadmissible) polygraph exam. She placed Judge in the room, even though she had to believe that Judge would back up his friend.
Ford’s mortified silence at the time, her description of the traumatic effects of the incident on her and her hesitation in coming forward also suggest to me that her account is genuine.
True, no other women have yet come forward to make similar claims, but given the threatening hell that Ford’s life has become in the past week and given the inevitability that it will never get back to normal, who would expect them to?
What are the chances that Kavanaugh’s categorical denials are accurate? That nothing like this ever happened? That this is a dreadful case of mistaken identity, a vicious partisan ploy or that Ford — a respected academic — is a crackpot? Do the math. Five percent.
I try to set politics aside when assessing claims like this. Sure, I think Kavanaugh will be disastrously conservative in his rulings, but I’m under no illusion that, if he’s forced to step aside, the nominee that takes his place will be even a smidge more liberal. And if Kavanaugh were to the left of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I‘d still be 95 percent sure Ford is telling the truth.
And I’d still be advocating for as thorough an FBI investigation as possible into her claims to help senators rule on the critical question.
And that question is not what Brett Kavanaugh did in the early 1980s.
I’ve consistently argued over the years that it’s unfair and inconsistent for our culture to treat people under 18 as adults when it comes to legal culpability, but as children when it comes to rights and privileges.
Experience and research show that young brains aren’t fully formed and teenagers often lack the judgment, maturity, temperament and perspective we expect of adults.
“From a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor’s character deficiencies will be reformed.
“Indeed, the relevance of youth as a mitigating factor derives from the fact that the signature qualities of youth are transient; as individuals mature, the impetuousness and recklessness that may dominate in younger years can subside.”
That was Anthony Kennedy, the retiring justice whose vacancy Kavanaugh hopes to fill, writing a 2005 Supreme Court opinion in a case involving a 17-year-old defendant.
We throw away too many young lives too easily in our quest for vengeance. Kavanaugh should have been punished at the time if he did what Ford says he did at that party, but he should not have had his entire life derailed.
The question we should be asking is what Brett Kavanaugh is doing in 2018.
If he’s lying to us, declining to show remorse or to apologize for a terrible thing he did long ago, that would disqualify him morally from a lifetime appointment to one of the most powerful jobs in the nation.
Lying pales next to the alleged original offense, of course. But the lie, if it is a lie, renews and refreshes that offense, making it inarguably relevant to the decision that senators must make about Kavanaugh’s nomination.
How sure do they have to be that the next Supreme Court justice is an honest man?
Even 95 percent sure sounds low, given how much Kavanaugh stands to shape our laws and our culture.
And right now, he ain’t even close.
Eric Zorn is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.