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Sexual assault and attempted rape should disqualify Kavanaugh

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh leaves his

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh leaves his home Wednesday in Chevy Chase, Md. Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

In the days and weeks to come, the question of whether a drunken, teenage Brett Kavanaugh did or didn’t sexually assault Christine Blasey Ford is one that many members of Congress and the media will do their best to parse.

For others in the political world and the punditocracy, however, “did he or didn’t he” doesn’t seem to be the operating question.

Instead, there is a different query floating around the internet, expressed most directly on MSNBC today by New York Times columnist Bari Weiss:

“Let’s say (Kavanaugh) did this exactly as she said. Should the fact that a 17 year old, presumably very drunk kid, did this, should that be disqualifying? That’s the question at the end of the day, isn’t it?”

Ah, the follies of youth. Who hasn’t pushed a teenage girl into a room against her will and attempted to tear her clothes off, while covering her mouth to muffle her screams? Boys will be boys.

Weiss may be the most well-known figure to ask “does it even matter?” in such a prominent forum, but she’s certainly not alone.

Frankly, it’s insane that there is a rational debate about whether sexual assault and attempted rape rise to the level of disqualification. But here we are.

Yes, of course it’s disqualifying if it turns out to be true.

Civil servants attempting to gain U.S. security clearance are put through rigorous background checks. And they are routinely denied for teenage foibles far less severe than sexual assault. Even modest experimentation with drug use as a teenager could be enough to deny you access.

Harvard Law School notes on its website that one of its students was denied a security clearance by the Colorado U.S. attorney’s office because “he admitted to trying marijuana once on an experimental basis.” The school further cautions that illegal downloading of music and videos is a “key issue” that could disqualify a potential applicant.

Mind you, there were 5.1 million Americans with security clearance in 2014. That translates to roughly 1.5 percent of the public who were apparently held to a stricter standard than many would seek to impose on the highest court in the land.

We can all argue about whether this is a rational policy that excludes too many qualified individuals from important public service positions. But the reality is that there is clearly a precedent for holding lower level employees to even to higher standards than some people would hold Brett Kavanaugh. If minor drug use and music pirating can be considered disqualifying for garden variety civil servants, then sexual assault and attempted rape clearly should fit the bill for a seat on the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh is up for a lifetime appointment to arguably the most important job in American public service. It’s perfectly reasonable to hold him to a higher standard - and it shouldn’t be a debate as to which side of that standard sexual assault falls.

Matthew Fleischer is a senior digital editor in the Los Angeles Times Opinion section.

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