Citing a statement from Chief Justice John Roberts in 2017 in which he acknowledged that the judiciary “is not immune” from the problem of sexual misconduct, Hirono said it is her duty “to ensure the fitness of nominees” for positions that have lifetime appointments.
Amy Coney Barrett has been asked in her Supreme Court nomination hearing whether she has ever sexually assaulted anyone.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held its second day of hearings for the 48-year-old federal judge on Tuesday.
Mazie Hirono, a senator for Hawaii, asked Barrett a question she said she asks all Supreme Court nominees.
Hirono quoted Chief Justice John Roberts, who in 2017 acknowledged that the judiciary ‘is not immune’ from the problem of sexual misconduct.
She then asked: ‘Since you became a legal adult, have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors, or committed any physical or verbal harassment or assault of a sexual nature?’
Barrett replied: ‘No, Senator Hirono.’
Hirono asked: ‘Have you ever faced discipline or entered into a settlement related to this kind of conduct?’
Barrett replied: ‘No, Senator.’
Hirono’s line of questioning drew parallels with the hearing for the most recently appointed Supreme Court judge, Brett Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh was nominated in July 2018, and his hearing was dominated by questions over sexual assault allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford.
Hirono asked Kavanaugh: ‘Since you became a legal adult, have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature? Have you ever faced discipline or entered into a settlement related to this kind of conduct?’
Some saw Hirono’s line of questioning as amounting to a ‘perjury trap’ – the idea that, if it later emerges that sexual assault was committed, the nominee would have committed perjury.
Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches at the George Washington University’s School of Law, told NPR in 2018 that the term ‘perjury trap’ was related to entrapment.
‘So what it means is that the prosecutor calls you in to testify not because they’ve got some legitimate investigative reason to have you testify, but simply to try to sort of trick you or trap you into some kind of a lie that they could then charge you with,’ he said in 2018, discussing Donald Trump’s fear that speaking to Robert Mueller was a perjury trap.
Others objected strongly to Hirono’s question.
‘Are they really going here???’ asked Dinesh D’Souza, prominent pro-Trump commentator and filmmaker.
One said that the sexual assault question ‘proves how vile the left is’.
Another remarked: ‘I was convinced nobody would bomb worse than @SenWhitehouse, then @SenBlumenthal attempted to out-do him.
‘But what I didn’t realize was that @MazieHirono was waiting in the wings, ready to accuse ACB of sexual assault. A true hold-my-beer moment in the history of hearings.’
Some found the whole furore bizarre, though.
‘Genuine question: Why are people so outraged by the sexual assault question asked by Hirono at the ACB hearing?’ one Twitter user asked.