Analysis Law and Policy

The Teens Who Testified Last Week Want Senators to See the Human Cost of Kavanaugh’s Confirmation

Jessica Mason Pieklo

“I was hoping they would get emotional and they would take a walk in my shoes that day and understand how it felt,” Parkland survivor Aalayah Eastmond told Rewire.News in an interview following her Senate Judiciary Committee testimony on Friday.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court would help solidify conservative control of the federal judiciary for decades to come. And nothing reinforced that potential generational impact more than the panel of teenage witnesses who lined up to testify against Kavanaugh on the final day of his confirmation hearing.

One of those witnesses was Aalayah Eastmond, who shared her experience as a survivor of the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Eastmond was in the third classroom attacked that day. She detailed for the senators who stayed to listen—and not all Republican senators did—what it was like to hide under the body of classmate Nicholas Dworet, who was killed right in front of her. She described saying what she thought were her final goodbyes to her parents, and the shock of having police pick body parts out of her hair. 

“I was hoping they would get emotional and they would take a walk in my shoes that day and understand how it felt,” Eastmond told Rewire.News in an interview following her Senate Judiciary Committee testimony on Friday. “And I know two of them actually did get emotional and I don’t want to say that I’m glad, but I appreciate them letting it out and understanding it and feeling it.” She pointed out that most of the Parkland survivors’ accounts of that day focus either on the students hiding in closets or running; because hers is so graphic, she said, “A lot of people are shocked when they hear my story.”

Eastmond was there Friday to make the senators look at the human cost of Kavanaugh’s views on gun rights. His extreme judicial philosophy concerning the Second Amendment was—along with his Federalist Society credentials and general preoccupation with “constitutional originalism”—the focus of several Democratic senators’ questioning last week, including Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who had invited Eastmond to testify. While on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh wrote a dissent in the case that upheld the District of Columbia’s assault weapon ban. In the dissent Kavanaugh compared the ban to a “ban on a category of speech” and said the weapons should not be regulated because they were in “common use,” and thus protected by the Second Amendment. 

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“If Kavanaugh doesn’t even have the decency to shake hands with a father of a victim,” Eastmond said, referencing Kavanaugh’s apparent snub of Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the Parkland shooting, “he definitely won’t have the decency” to consider how his decisions will affect real people.

Then there was the testimony of 13-year-old Jackson Corbin from Hanover, Pennsylvania. Ten years ago Corbin and his family members were all diagnosed with Noonan syndrome, which means they depend on the protections of the Affordable Care Act to manage their care. “I have heard my mom and dad say that they are grateful for our insurance because the cost of our care is more than my family makes in a year,” Corbin told the senators in the room who would listen.

During his Senate testimony, Corbin told the story of the first speech he gave at the U.S. Capitol as a health-care advocate. At the ripe old age of 12, Corbin riffed on Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. “The Lorax says, ‘I am the Lorax and I speak for the trees,’ and so I said, ‘I am Jackson, and I speak for the children,’” he recalled for the senators.

“But as my journey continued, I met even more children—and adults—who have pre-existing conditions, and who—like me and Henry—are scared for their future,” Corbin testified, referring to his brother. “I realize that I don’t only speak for the children anymore. Today, especially, I speak for everyone.” 

“I might be a kid, but I am still an American,” said Corbin. “The decisions you are making today will affect my generation’s ability to have access to affordable health care. Adults talk about investing in their future. Well, we are your future. Invest in us.” 

The third teenage witness to testify against Kavanaugh was Hunter Lachance from Kennebunkport, Maine. Lachance, who has asthma, was there to speak to the risk a Kavanaugh confirmation would pose to environmental regulations. Kavanaugh has, for example, ruled to limit public interest groups from bringing lawsuits, a fact that worries groups who often sue to enforce environmental protections; one of his dissents also argued that ethanol regulations unfairly burdened industry groups despite the overwhelming evidence of the need to curb greenhouse gases.

“During his time on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Mr. Kavanaugh has repeatedly struck down other Clean Air Act protections,” Lachance said in his testimony. “This worries me a lot because clean air is a life-or-death issue for so many people like me.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-IA) has scheduled a vote on the Kavanaugh confirmation for Thursday. The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have the procedural ability to delay the vote for a week, meaning it will most likely happen sometime after September 20. Should Kavanaugh make it out of committee, the full Senate will then vote to confirm or reject his nomination. Republicans have said they want Kavanaugh sworn in and on the bench in time to start hearing cases when the Supreme Court term opens October 1. Right now, absent something extraordinary happening, it looks like Republicans are on track to meet that target—even if they’ve had to rewrite the rules to do so.

On the last day of his confirmation hearing, though, it was quite clear for Eastmond and her peers this is a fight that doesn’t end here.

“In the next year I at least hope that all of the politicians that … don’t listen to us are voted out and we vote in people who care about our lives,” Eastmond said.

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