On Thursday, Oct. 4 at noon, the Princeton Community Democratic Organization led an “Emergency Rally” in Tiger Park — the small park adjacent to Palmer Square — to oppose the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Town residents and University staff, faculty, and students came together for the hour-long protest.
Dozens of protestors filled the park, with some standing beyond the park’s confines. Protesters expressed their anger with various signs, including some which read “Unfit to Judge #CancelKavanaugh,” “Keep His SCROTUS Off Our SCOTUS,” and “When Truth Dies, Democracy Dies.”
Seven speakers were scheduled, including Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert and New Jersey Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman.
Protesters said they're driven to oppose Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court because of the accusations of sexual assault made against him. Speakers detailed their disapproval of Kavanaugh's conduct before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, as well as his role in the investigation of Bill Clinton and his time in the Bush Administration. Many protesters said they were inspired to attend the demonstration because of Anita Hill's 1991 testimonies against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Others said they became active in political life only after the 2016 presidential election. Many protesters urged attendees to pressure senators currently slated to vote “yes” on Kavanaugh.
PCDO president Jean Durbin held up a sign reading “Call A Shameful Senator,” containing a list of the names and contact information for congressmen committed to voting “yes.” She said Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, who recently committed to confirming Kavanaugh, should be added to the list.
Caroline Cleaves, the event coordinator and a member of the PCDO Executive Board, centered her speech on women’s rights issues. She spoke about being a native Princetonian, a survivor of a 1980 sexual assault on the University campus, and a recipient of two legal and safe abortions. She described the nomination process as sickening.
“The issue of women’s reproductive freedoms and sexual rights are at the heart of this contentious battle over who sits on our Supreme Court,” she said.
She went on to discuss Kavanaugh’s demeanor during the Senate Judiciary Hearings.
“As if credible accusations of sexual assault were not disqualifying enough, surely his aggressive mansplaining to female senators, his brash display entitlement and bizarre conspiracy theories should have been enough to convince any reasonable person that this was an unreasonable person,” Cleaves said.
Madeleine Marr ’21, a member of Princeton Students for Gender Equality, also centered her speech around women’s rights. She cited Congress’s failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which provides funds for rape prevention, domestic violence investigation, legal aid, shelters, and advocacy groups.
“It’s crucial to set an example for all men who believe that sexual harassment and assault are okay, by passing laws like the Violence Against Women Act and voting out the representatives who can’t get with the program,” Marr said.
University history professor Sean Wilentz also participated in the event, elaborating on his own dislike of Kavanaugh.
According to Wilentz, Kavanaugh pursued “demented conspiracy theories” and wrote a “gratuitously pornographic official report” to humiliate President Clinton and his family.
Wilentz also pointed to Kavanaugh’s views on torture and problematic handling of judicial nominations during the Bush Administration. He brought up how Kavanaugh allegedly held onto stolen documents from his political opponents, “about which he almost certainly lied under oath to the Senate.”
He also referred to Kavanaugh’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee as “a display of contempt, conspiratorial partisanship, and blatant, indeed arrogant, mendacity, unparalleled in the history of the United States.”
“Never has a judicial nominee shown such contempt not just for the process, not just for the Senate, but for the American people, as Brett Kavanaugh did a week ago today,” Wilentz said.
He explained that he would expect a Supreme Court Justice to rise above the anger and partisanship that, according to Wilentz, Kavanaugh had displayed.
“He did not rise to the occasion,” Wilentz said. “He fell to the occasion.”
University student Valeria Torres-Olivares ’22 said she attended Thursday's protest because of Anita Hill's testimony in 1991. She said she wants American society to move past victim blaming.
Having lived in Princeton for over nine years, Torres-Olivares said she has attended other local protests before and noted that this rally felt different.
“Usually people are angry and upset at marches or rallies but this one was a little different. They even had the list of shame for the Senators to call,” she said.
Fran Carroll and Lorraine Sexton, two Hamilton residents and members of the Mercer County Democratic Committee, also attended the protest.
Carroll recalled that the temperament, fairness, bipartisanship, and the independence of Supreme Court nominees used to matter.
“That mattered and meant something, but now, with certain Republicans, it doesn’t seem to,” she explained.
Sexton noted that she was never politically active until the 2016 president election. Since then, she became heavily involved with the New Jersey Democratic Party.
According to Sexton, the Kavanaugh hearings angered her because of the resemblance between Ford’s testimony and Anita Hill’s testimony before Congress in 1991.
“It was a travesty of justice then, and it’s even worse now,” she said.