Quietly and determinedly, Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii has become one of the fiercest voices among the still too-small cadre of women senators. She's doing it in the nomination hearings of all five of the committees she sits on, starting with these questions.
"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?"
Hirono started asking the questions—which she will also pose to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh—seven months ago. She spoke with Huffington Post's Jennifer Bendery about how the Me Too movement has forced the issue into "a legitimate area of inquiry" for those who would serve in the highest levels of government. It's particularly true given the man who is nominating them, a serial abuser and assaulter. She's asked that question of nearly 100 nominees, according to HuffPo's count, putting the nominees on the spot often in front of their spouses and children.
Awkward for them, perhaps, but for Hirono? "Not anymore," she told Bendery. "The questions have never been asked before. And why is that? Because it would take a woman to ask questions like that, I would say." She's doing it because she knew there was "every potential" for her colleagues in the Senate to entirely ignore the Me Too movement roiling around them.
Those questions will have extra resonance when posed to Kavanaugh, for while he hasn't been accused of abusing his power by any women, he clerked for and has remained close to former U.S. Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, who retired last year after 15 women accused him of sexual harassment. Kavanaugh was there, working with Kozinski, during some of the alleged incidents. What did Kavanaugh know while he was there? What did he do in response? Another former clerk, law professor turned romance novelist Courtney Milan, says Kavanaugh had to know because of his close working relationship with the judge. "They worked together on hiring. Kozinski regularly used belittling and demeaning language in hiring with us as his clerks. I cannot attest to whether he used it in Kennedy screening, but it would surprise me if he didn't." (The "Kennedy screening" refers to Kozinski's being basically a feeder of clerks to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.)
"I think it's a legitimate area of inquiry," Hirono said, answering whether she will ask this again in the Judiciary Committee hearing with Kavanaugh. "It's something that will get asked." She's preparing herself well, with binders full of the documents that Republicans have so far deigned to release and copious notes and questions drawn from them. She also has serious questions for him about his hostility toward women's reproductive rights, the Affordable Care Act, and environmental rules protecting clean air and water.
Hirono is going to be laser-focused on Kavanaugh, even though it's highly unlikely Republicans will break ranks because, she says, "some battles […] are worth fighting, regardless of the outcomes. […] I'm hopeful the people in our country will realize these judges who are appointed for life are going to make decisions that affect their life every single day―and that this is the lasting legacy of Trump." These hard questions will also put Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who have staked a good part of their careers on standing up for women's rights, in the position of having to answer for themselves and their constituents.