It doesn't matter whether Brett Kavanaugh is 'guilty' of sexual assault.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

For the past week, Americans have argued about whether or not Brett Kavanaugh is guilty of sexual assault. But at this point, it doesn’t really matter.

Of course, his guilt or innocence matters in some contexts. It matters to him and his loved ones. It matters to Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford and her loved ones. It matters to the sexual assault victims who see themselves in Ford’s testimony. It matters to our public discourse surrounding sexual violence.

But as far as whether or not Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice—which is why we’re all here to begin with—it doesn’t matter. At this point, even if the various sexual assault allegations against him were 100% false, even if it’s all a “sham” as Lindsey Graham claims, even if this is one great big partisan hit job to make him appear unfit, none of it would matter.


The Senate screens a candidate for SCOTUS so that they can “advise and consent” on the nominee. In doing so, they’re examining not only his education and judicial record, but also whether or not he has what it takes to serve a lifetime appointment in the highest judicial office in the land.

Naturally, putting an attempted rapist on the bench would not be an ideal choice, but we don’t have definitive proof of that. What we do have now is undeniable proof that he is not fit for the job.  

Brett Kavanaugh disqualified himself in the Senate hearing with behavior unbefitting a Supreme Court Justice.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that he is completely innocent of all allegations. How he responds to such allegations is still important. How he behaves when questioned, how he expresses himself, how he comports himself under pressure—these are all aspects of “judicial temperament” that the Senate needs to take into consideration.

The concept of judicial temperament is somewhat elusive. While there is no definitive description of what it looks like, we tend to know it when we see it—and more importantly, we know it when we don’t.

The American Bar Association simplifies what makes a good judge in its online curriculum for educators with a list of character qualities which we might consider when defining "judicial temperament":

Civil

Humble

Courteous

Patient

Empathetic

Trustworthy

Honest

Skeptical yet trusting

Open-minded

Fair

A good listener

Someone who asks questions

Unbiased

Perceptive

Helpful

Realistic

Self-confident

Efficient

Firm and in control

Effective

Diligent

Reputable

Responsive

Deliberative

Diversity conscious

Recognized member of community

Good role model

If those are the qualities we should expect from any judge, a nominee for the Supreme Court should exemplify them to the highest degree. Did Judge Kavanaugh exemplify each of these qualities to the highest degree in that Senate hearing, while under oath, in front of the entire nation?

On several counts, no, he did not.

His partisan jabs show that he is not “unbiased,” and his demonstrable lies knock out “honest.”

A judge who is supposed to be impartial and unbiased doesn’t say things like, “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons. and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.” I mean, really.

A judge who is supposed to be honest doesn’t say that “boofed” and “Devil’s Triangle” are innocent drinking terms when everyone who is familiar with those terms know that they are salacious euphemisms for specific sex acts. A judge who is honest doesn’t try to make obvious youthful transgressions, no matter how embarrassing, into something they are not.

An honest person, when confronted with undignified things they were obviously party to in the past, says, “I did some things in my past that I am not proud of. The culture in which I spent my youth had many toxic and unhealthy elements to it, and I did and said things I regret and am embarrassed by. I have learned a lot and changed a lot since then.” They don’t keep saying all they did was go to church, play sports, drink responsibly, and not have sex.

Even if he were innocent of all sexual assault allegations, it’s obvious that he was immersed in a heavy partying culture in high school and college that all of us recognize. Why not just own up to that? Sometimes telling the truth is hard, but if you’re trying to be a Supreme Court Justice, there’s no room for any dishonesty of any kind, especially under oath.

Perhaps most disturbing was his barely contained rage and his disrespectful interchanges with Senators. What I saw was not “civil,” “courteous,” and “firm and in control.”

I went into the hearing with an open mind, and was honestly shocked by Kavanaugh’s behavior. I’ve never seen anything like that from someone who is supposed to be a highly respected professional. When Senator Klobuchar asked him if he’d ever drunk so much that he didn’t remember something, his response was "You're asking about blackout. I don't know, have you?" Who says that? Then after she calmly asked him to answer the question, he doubled down about her drinking again.

I'm pretty sure this isn't what the ABA means by "Someone who asks questions." Why would you not simply answer the question?

Sen. Klobuchar and Kavanaugh share tense exchange over judge's drinking habits

Sen. Klobuchar: There’s never been a case where you drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened the night before?Judge Kavanaugh: “I don't know. Have you?”…Klobuchar: “I have no drinking problem, Judge.”Kavanaugh: “Nor do I.” https://nbcnews.to/2N6dSVZ

Posted by NBC News on Thursday, September 27, 2018

To his credit, he apologized to the Senator afterward. However, the fact that it happened in the first place is unacceptable. So was his yelling throughout the hearing.

People keep saying that he has a right to be upset and that anyone would respond with that level of anger at being falsely accused. But he’s not just anyone—he’s the nominee for the highest judicial position in the land.

It's not like this accusation had just happened that morning and he was having a knee-jerk reaction. He had at least ten days to gather his emotions and composure before appearing before the Senate. I don’t fault him for arriving at the hearing ready to defend himself; however, I do fault him for being unable to do so with the decorum that we should expect from a Supreme Court Justice.

Whether he sexually assaulted anyone is not the most relevant question, especially since it’s unlikely to be definitively proven one way or another. The question is whether he has what it takes to do the job he’s lined up for.

As a Supreme Court Justice, he will be subjected to unending hate mail, his character and beliefs will be constantly attacked, and his motivations for his judgments will be called into question every single time. He has to be able to handle those attacks with self-control, civility, and impartiality. That’s the job.

And he has proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he’s not up for it.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."