This guest post was submitted by Connie Krapp, a Jamestown resident who worked for a North Dakota electric cooperative for 22 years.
Sunday night on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” two female senators, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Maine Sen. Susan Collins, were interviewed about their votes on the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The path each of them took to arrive at their decision might tell us something.
Collins is a Republican; Heitkamp is a Democrat. Despite the fact they serve from opposite sides of the aisle, their political personas are not that different. GovTrack places Heitkamp as near the center of the Senate and to the right of Collins. It places Collins to the left of every Republican and four Democrats, Joe Donnelly, Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, and Jon Tester.
So, despite party affiliation, Heitkamp may be as conservative as Collins. Or Collins as liberal as Heitkamp.
Their process to prepare for the Kavanaugh vote had to be similar. Presumably every senator reviewed Kavanaugh’s 12-year record on the DC Court of Appeals, including 300 opinions and many speeches and articles.
Both Collins and Heitkamp interviewed him personally and likely grilled him intensely on his view of the abortion law Roe v. Wade and other “hot button” issues such as presidential power and his position on the Affordable Care Act. And both had the opportunity to scrutinize his answers to 1,200 written questions submitted after Kavanaugh underwent 32 hours under oath in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
When Heitkamp announced her “no” vote on Kavanaugh on Thursday, Oct. 4, she confused many North Dakota voters with her statement to Fargo’s WDAY that she “believed both,” referring to Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused the judge of attempted sexual assault when the two were teens. After Heitkamp was asked to clarify, she replied, “Because I believed her doesn’t mean I don’t believe him. My judgement was she was telling the truth. I think he could have no recollection of their event. I think it’s a matter of perspective—it wasn’t as significant to him as it was to her. I think you can believe both.”
Later, on WDAY, Heitkamp, a lawyer and former Attorney General, cited her work in human trafficking and representing victims of abuse as a life experience. “The most important thing you tell a victim, if you, in fact, do, is that you believe them,” explained Heitkamp.
Referring to the question of a Justice Kavanaugh: “It’s a lifetime appointment. This is not a political decision, if this were a political decision for me, I would be deciding this the other way,” she tearfully explained. “There is an old saying, ‘history will judge you but most importantly you will judge yourself,’ and that is what I am saying, I can’t get up in the morning and look at the life experience I have had and say yes to Judge Kavanaugh,”
While Heitkamp’s announcement was washed in emotion, Collins took a much more methodical approach to the Kavanaugh confirmation.
Known for thorough deliberation before voting, Collins had assembled and met several times each week with 19 attorneys assisting her in evaluating the judge’s extensive record, which included 1 million-plus pages of legal opinions and emails.
Her 43-minute speech revealed her understanding of Kavanaugh’s jurisprudence and offered examples of opinions reinforcing her belief in his respect for rules of precedent that would preserve protection for people with pre-existing conditions, the Affordable Care Act, and Roe v. Wade, among others.
She described Kavanaugh as more of a centrist than critics claimed, and called attention to his history of voting with Chief Judge Merrick Garland, nominated to the Supreme Court by Pres. Obama but never confirmed, in 93 percent of the cases they heard together.
Like Heitkamp, she said both Kavanaugh and Ford were believable—that she believed Ford had at some time in her life had been sexually molested, but Kavanaugh had nothing to do with it. The facts presented, she said, lead her to conclude that the allegations fail to meet the “more likely than not” threshold. She noted that the ‘outlandish” allegation of gang rape was put forth without any credible supporting evidence and simply parroted public statements of others.
She said departing from the presumption of innocence could lead to a lack of public faith in the judiciary, and “certain fundamental legal principles— about due process, the presumption of innocence and fairness—do bear on my thinking and I cannot abandon them.”
Politics, protesters and presumption of innocence
Since Collins’s speech and the confirmation vote, media outlets have lit up with outrage. Instead of stopping the threatening letters and calls and protesting outside Collins’s home and offices that began three months ago when President Trump first nominated Kavanaugh, activists have now amped up their efforts. Collins has had to beef up security for her staff and offices and resort to police protection. Two activist groups that had crowd-sourced over $3 million for Collins have said those funds will support her opponent now that she voted for Kavanaugh.
In the aftermath of Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Republicans are calling such activists “the mob” and insist the antics of the Democrats in supporting such left wing groups in attempting to ruin the reputation of a decent man without a shred of evidence or proof was nothing short of monstrous.
Democrats, rallied by those frenzied cries, demand that when survivors come forth with stories of sexual assault, they are to be believed.
And thus, we have the two prevailing arguments that last week distinguished the actions of two senators considered to be the nation’s most pivotal in this controversy. One, a Democrat representing a Republican state, went with her emotion and experience working with sexual assault survivors to believe Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh.
The other, a Republican representing a mostly Democratic state, took a deliberative approach that demanded that Kavanaugh deserved to be presumed innocent in absence of evidence.
Is this the age-old “head over heart” conundrum? How much did allegiance to their parties have to do with their decisions? Do Democrats govern based on emotion, while Republicans govern based on logic?
And how will their constituents tolerate the obvious: that their opinions were not reflected in their votes?
Time, and their next elections, will tell.