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Kavanaugh’s judiciary hearing becomes teachable moment for UM, FIU students

Dr. Ford details assault accusation against Kavanaugh in Senate hearing

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford discussed her allegations that Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while the two were teenagers before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27, 2018
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Dr. Christine Blasey Ford discussed her allegations that Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while the two were teenagers before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27, 2018

The crowd watching Thursday’s heated Senate Judiciary hearings swelled from two dozen bystanders to 100, leaving just standing room in the student lounge at the University of Miami’s School of Law.

Caroline Bettinger-Lopez had planned to show the hearing for only half of her Human Rights Clinic seminar. But the law school professor and director of UM’s Human Rights Clinic saw an opportunity for her students to watch and apply what they had learned — and what she hoped the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee would grasp, too.

Bettinger-Lopez was the third of 200 law professors to co-sign a letter addressed to U.S. Senate leaders expressing concern over the Senate’s approach to the allegations raised by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, accusers of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The letter accuses the judiciary committee of undermining the Violence Against Women Act, which seeks to protect the dignity and safety of those who come forward to report themselves as victims of sexual misconduct, by rushing through the hearings without fully investigating the victims’ claims.

“This entire process leading up to the hearing today is so fundamentally flawed from a fair process perspective, or a fairness perspective,” said Bettinger-Lopez, who served as the White House Adviser on Violence Against Women under President Barack Obama. “I’ve just never seen anything like this. This is a mockery of justice. This is the very kind of thing that we point the finger at other countries for doing.”

Her class of 14 students watched in silence. During a pause in Ford’s testimony, students discussed how what they learned about law enforcement’s response to the trauma of sexual violence victims played out on national television.

Too many details meant Ford was too polished. Too few meant an unreliable account. Bettinger-Lopez said Ford had a good understanding of how trauma affected her memory.

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Caroline Bettinger-López, a professor and director of the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law, showed the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings questioning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, in her human rights clinic seminar on Thursday. Jorge R.Perez

“She spoke about how in some ways it felt like a bit of a cross-examination,” Bettinger-Lopez said of one of her students. “It was a bit of a damned-if-you-do. damned-if-you-don’t approach to interviewing a witness.”

Other students pointed out how the #MeToo movement, an anti-sexual harassment and sexual assault campaign, had arrived in the hearing room. One invoked Trump’s tweets defending Kavanaugh.

“Trump is worried that MeToo is sending a message that powerful men can be toppled when they engage in sexual conduct,” she said. “And we kind of laughed as a class. Because yes, that is precisely one of the messages of MeToo.”

Over at Florida International University, another classroom was also glued to the proceedings.

“Almost everyone knew what was going on and wanted to watch it,” said Victoria Burns, an assistant professor who teaches women and gender studies. “I checked to see if they were really watching or were on their phones, and they were all really engaged.”

Burns and her 100 students, about 60 of whom are women, spent the morning class alternatively watching the testimony and discussing it. Most, she said, felt deep sympathy for Ford and talked about how they were inspired by her bravery.

The only argument that broke out was over Ford’s decision to come forward now, instead of earlier, Burns said. Some students said the battle would have been less partisan if she had reported it in real time, but others countered that she’d never have been believed back then.

“It really stuck out to me how passionate they were about this,” Burns said. “I was moved by that.”

Contact Colleen Wright at cawright@miamiherald.com and Alex Harris at aharris@miamiherald.com.
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