On Oct. 1, a letter involving the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh began circulating among University students. It was directed at the U.S. Senate and President Donald Trump.
“We do not oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh based on ideological grounds,” the letter, written by Jaren McKinnie ’21, states. “Instead, we oppose the current expeditious nomination of a man uncleared of breaches of morality of the most severe degree. We refuse to support appointing an individual who has possibly participated in such illicit acts as he has been accused.”
The confirmation hearings have ignited campus protests at several of the University’s peer institutions, including Yale, where Kavanaugh graduated in 1987, and Harvard, where he has lectured since 2008. Until this week, although the topic had been widely discussed, there had been no formal protest of Kavanaugh’s confirmation on campus.
McKinnie said that he “became very fed up with the entire situation” and chose to act. Feeling a sense of discontent among many of his peers, he wanted to find a way for this message to directly reach representatives in Washington. He composed a letter that was publicized online through Facebook and various campus listservs.
McKinnie explained that the circulating letter is not an attack against Brett Kavanaugh himself, but rather against the partisanship in the U.S. government and U.S. society’s lack of seriousness when it comes to sexual assault allegations.
“I think the initial opposition from Democrats was unwarranted. I think a lot of them intended to oppose the nomination because it was President Trump’s nomination and because it was from the opposition party,” McKinnie said. “I think it was handled very poorly when the allegations came out against Brett Kavanaugh, and it seems people are still following along those strictly partisan lines for the most part, as far as their votes go.”
The letter states that the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings about allegations of sexual misconduct have further perpetuated the partisan divide by “turning this highly sensitive, national issue into a political spectacle. The members of the committee should have strive[n] to be and do better, for they let down Dr. Blasey Ford, victims of sexual assault, and women across our nation.”
As the FBI looks into the allegations, McKinnie said he hopes that the investigation will impact how U.S. residents think about sexual assault.
“At this point, I just hope the issue will be taken seriously,” he said.
The investigation, to McKinnie, is a good starting place, but he said he still worries about possible limits on the time frame and scope of the investigation.
“They were only given a week, and I think these matters should have no time limit,” he said. “I think they should take as long as they take to investigate thoroughly and do it the right way, so that we have the most conclusive evidence.”
If the FBI investigation finds Kavanaugh to be innocent, McKinnie said he hopes that Senate Democrats will end their holdout and confirm Kavanaugh, whom he calls “extremely qualified.” If the allegations of assault prove true, he hopes that Senate Republicans will refuse the nomination.
Of course, there are some on campus who disagree with the substance of the letter. Sebastian Quiroga ’22 said that while recognizing the sincerity of the letter’s anti-partisan sentiments, he feels that the fault lies mostly with the Democrats. He attributed much of the perceived rushed process to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s withholding knowledge of Ford’s allegation for over a month and coming forward just before a vote was to take place.
Quiroga said he does not expect a finite verdict to come out of the FBI investigation. He noted the “he said, she said” nature of the issue, and said he considers the investigation itself to be merely another partisan delay tactic. While he found Ford’s testimony extremely moving and compelling, he considered Kavanaugh’s testimony to be equally credible.
“When you have a scenario like this with no corroborating evidence, with no witness corroboration, it is just an accusation,” Quiroga said. “The burden of proof lies on the accuser to show that the accusee did something. If it happens where, with no proof, Judge Kavanaugh doesn't make it onto the court, the precedent we set is dangerous.”
Masha Miura ’21, who signed McKinnie’s letter, disagreed with Quiroga’s sentiment. In her opinion, if the FBI investigation comes back inconclusive, the Republicans should still consider another nominee.
“There are a number of qualified candidates who fit Kavanaugh’s ideological profile, and it is not that hard to nominate someone who hasn’t been accused of a sexual assault crime,” Miura said.
However, she does expect the FBI to reach a conclusion if it were unobstructed by constraints on time and scope.
Though on-campus opinions differ, the letter attempts to bridge the gap. One major point of the letter is that whether Kavanaugh is confirmed or denied, the vote should not strictly follow partisan lines.
To keep any of his own political views out of the document, McKinnie had Grace Collins ’21 and Claire McCarriher ’21, two students who consider themselves to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum, proofread the letter.
“I don’t agree with Jaren on everything. I wouldn’t agree with Claire on everything either,” Collins noted. “I think it’s really powerful to have all three of us working on this because it makes sure we’re keeping each others’ ideas in check.”
Collins, who credits McKinnie with writing the majority of the document, said she appreciates his efforts to incorporate different perspectives. She considers the bipartisan nature the “most special piece” of the letter.
“It’s been really cool to see how much we can agree upon,” she added.
As to why this is the first display of activism on campus, considering the numerous protests of Kavanaugh on other campuses, Miura explained her view that the University is not as much of “an activist campus” as she would like.
“As a more conservative school, Princeton encourages more legalistic forms of activism,” she said, citing a presence of petitions and calls to legislators but an absence of protests, sit-ins, strikes, and other forms of civil disobedience. Though she would prefer an increase in less subtle forms of activism on campus, Miura still signed the letter.
“What the letter does well is state clearly that the allegations need to be taken seriously, whether or not you believe him ideologically, and I think that’s a valuable point,” Miura said.
As of 8:35 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 2, the letter has 51 signatures. McKinnie has also reached out to students at over 60 other universities nationally. Students at Oregon University have signed on to grow the initiative at their school, and students at University of North Carolina, UC Davis, University of Vermont, Virginia Tech, and University of Connecticut have agreed to take the letter to their student governments or other student-run organizations.
McKinnie said he plans to send the letter to a number of elected representatives, including all of the Senate, at some point later in the week, depending on how many signatures the letter accumulates within that time frame.