In an extraordinary move, the American Bar Association is asking the Senate Judiciary Committee to delay its confirmation vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh until after the FBI investigates the multiple sexual misconduct allegations against him.
In a grave, strongly worded letter sent to the committee late Thursday night, the lawyers group said it was making this "request because of the ABA’s respect for the rule of law and due process under law."
"The basic principles that underscore the Senate’s constitutional duty of advice and consent on federal judicial nominees require nothing less than a careful examination of the accusations and facts by the FBI," ABA President Robert Carlson wrote to Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the committee.
The surprising letter comes hours after an intense and emotional hearing during which Christine Blasey Ford testified that Trump's Supreme Court nominee sexually assaulted her at a high school party in the early 1980s. Kavanaugh, who also spoke before the Senate committee, vehemently and angrily denied the allegations.
In its request, the 400,000-member group stressed that each appointment to the nation’s "Highest Court (as with all others) is simply too important to rush to a vote."
"Deciding to proceed without conducting an additional investigation would not only have a lasting impact on the Senate’s reputation, but it will also negatively affect the great trust necessary for the American people to have in the Supreme Court," Carlson wrote.
The letter is significant because the ABA's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary — a body that operates separately from ABA leadership — unanimously gave Kavanaugh its highest, "well-qualified" rating when he was nominated, which the judge has repeatedly touted and used to defend his career and qualifications.
"For 12 years, everyone who has appeared before me on the DC Circuit has praised my judicial temperament," Kavanaugh said Thursday during the hearing. "That's why I have the unanimous well-qualified rating from the American Bar Association."
Now, however, the association wants the FBI to thoroughly investigate the several sexual misconduct allegations against the judge, urging that the Senate must “remain an institution that will reliably follow the law and not politics.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, addressed the letter in a hearing on Friday, suggesting that Carlson did not have the authority to speak for the entire bar association.
“I have explained many times another FBI investigation is not necessary. … We’re not going to let them dictate our committee's business," Grassley said. "Also, this letter is from the president of the ABA, one individual. He doesn't represent the hundreds of thousands of lawyers in the United States. It isn't at all clear that the ABA president has authority to speak for the organization on this matter."
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Republicans, said after Thursday's tumultuous hearing that they still planned to vote on Kavanaugh's nomination Friday morning, despite Democrats' repeated calls for an FBI investigation. The vote is scheduled to take place at 1:30 p.m. ET Friday.
Read the ABA's letter:
Updated with additional information about the American Bar Association.
This story was updated to include a statement from Sen. Chuck Grassley.