Susan Collins settles it.

The recent, highly dramatic and sometimes ugly, circus that surrounded the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to be a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States seemed in the event to be largely settled by a single speech from the Senate Floor on Friday October 5.

Susan Collins, senior United States Senator for Maine,¬†delivered a forty minute speech which concluded with the declaration that she would vote ‘Yes’. Almost immediately the usual suspects began screaming that she had condoned rape. Anyone claiming to conclude that from this speech has not heard it.

This is long, measured, sober and well-argued. So much so that it would be impertinent for me – not even an American – to judge it.

Nevertheless I am conscious that you may not be able easily to spare forty minutes to watch the whole thing, so I will restrict myself to supplying some guidance – a map, if you will – as to what she discusses, and when.

  • The first four minutes are devoted to condemnation of some of the behaviour surrounding this particular nomination. Targets for her ire include not just activists and journalists, but even a few members of the Senate itself.
  • She then moves into the necessity for looking beyond supposed party affiliations of a nominee like Kavanaugh, citing her own votes for past nominees. This leads into an extended description of her detailed examination of Kavanaugh’s Judgements, Opinions, Speeches and Legal Writings over a great number of years. This includes many examples of when his legal conclusions have run contrary to what might have been expected considering his supposed political persuasion. It also includes long, frank and penetrating conversations she held with him after his nomination. Crucially it reveals the strength of his regard for precedent.
  • At 21:40 she addresses the wealth of glowing testimonials from all who have worked with him. These are not only technical legal commendations but also those dealing with his demeanour and character.
  • At 24:00 she turns to the accusation from Professor Ford. Her main thrust is that though she believes Prof. Ford is sincere and was assaulted by someone, somewhere, sometime, the principle of the presumption of innocence is of such fundamental importance that in the absence of any corroborating evidence it fails the ‘more-likely-than-not’ standard and must therefore be dismissed. On the other hand she is withering in her condemnation of the me-too allegations against Kavanaugh that emerged from the woodwork.
  • At 32:25 she launches into expressing the hope that some good might come out of this if it raises public awareness of sexual assault.
  • The final section begins at 36:10. She talks of Ford’s reluctance to come forward, and how she feels she was a victim of political manoeuvring, though she completely absolves Senator Feinstein of that. She praises Chairman Grassley for the way he handled the proceedings, but she expresses contempt for whoever leaked Professor Ford’s letter.

The speech is structured and delivered beautifully. It is very impressive indeed.

Ben Sasse educates

Through September, the clamour surrounding the confirmation of the proposed appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has spiralled to alarming proportions. Yesterday, 27 September, saw Judge Kavanaugh deliver an impassioned, emotional, and defiant defence of himself, his record and his character; though for sheer drama that was challenged by Senator Lindsey Graham who tore into what he saw as a disgusting conspiracy by certain parties. It is perfectly possible that Judge Kavanaugh’s and Senator Graham’s speeches will find their way onto this blog, but for now I’d like to turn to a quieter more reasoned time.

At the beginning of September lawmakers delivered opening statements to the confirmation hearing. Senator Ben Sasse was one of them, and he gave a brilliant speech.

For this Brit, with little more than a sketchy understanding of the workings of the US legislature, this speech is an education. For one thing it seems to explain the creation of what President Trump calls “the swamp”. But it is much more than that, as it also has huge resonances to what ails the political tides in Britain.

When he says “The legislature is impotent: the legislature is weak, and most people here want their jobs more than they want to do legislative work so they punt most of the work to the next branch” I find myself thinking that the British legislature does exactly the same thing, in fact disgracefully punted most of it overseas whence the British people are desperately trying to claw it back.

Sasse strongly advocates restricting responsibility for legislature to the hands of those who can be kicked out of office when they get it wrong. He is referring to SCOTUS being a lifetime appointment for a Justice, but you get no prizes for guessing what I am thinking. Nevertheless let’s stick with Sasse (who, incidentally, later explains even more clearly why politicians punt decision-making away). He says that the judiciary’s having become such a political hot potato stems from the elected politicians’ having failed to do their job properly.

There’s a potent moment for me, a student of audiences, at 0:32. The split screen allows us simultaneously to watch Sasse and the focal point of the audience – Kavanaugh himself. The latter has been listening intently, but now picks up a pen to make notes.

What I think is significant about Kavanaugh throughout this speech is not just the intensity of his concentration, but the dispassion. His frowns convey concentration not disagreement. At no point does his expression display an opinion on what is said. The exception is when Sasse slips in a provocative joke, and Kavanaugh permits himself a smile.

Just before his summary, and beginning at 9:39, Sasse delivers a very strong anaphora¬†– “this is why …”, and then the summary heads unswervingly towards his final two sentences.

“It seems to me that Judge Kavanaugh is ready to do his job. The question for us is whether we’re ready to do our job.”