The Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination and alcoholism – he should have been asked the MAST test questions

On Thursday, the nation was transfixed as the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh.  Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual assault by Ford and a number of other females when they were in high school and college.  All of the complaints say that Kavanaugh was extremely inebriated at the time.  However, when Kavanaugh was asked about his drinking habits he became very defensive and refused to answer the questions, although he did admit to on occasion drinking too much and liking beer.  At all costs, he had to deny his alcoholism, if he suffered from it, because that would lead to questions of whether he drank to the extent of experiencing blackouts, a symptom of heavy drinking, where the person has no memory of their conduct while drunk.  If he experienced blackouts, then his denials would be much less credible.  Although the senators’ questions for the most part avoided touching on his alcoholism, it appears evident that his alcoholism or lack is central to the case.

In drunk driving cases, all clients represented by attorney Leonard Stamm are referred to a program approved by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to determine if the client has a drinking problem and to receive an appropriate level of education and treatment.  A directory of programs nationwide can be found here.

Clients are assessed to determine if they have a drinking problem using a number of psychological screening tests.  The most well known is probably the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test also known as the MAST test.  Clients are give a score based on their answers.  A higher score indicates a likely drinking problem.  Other tests include the Alcohol Use Disorders Test or AUDIT test.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, having dealt with alcoholism in her family, and having been a former prosecutor, was on the right track.  Her questions directly dealing with blackouts cut right to the core of the issue.  Kavanaugh would not answer a direct question.  But these tests provide alternative means of discovering whether Kavanaugh is afflicted with the disease.

Some might say a Supreme Court nominee should not be subjected to a public alcoholism assessment in order to be confirmed.  If a person is accused of a drunk driving offense for example, a court would generally not allow questioning about the person’s alcoholism because it is viewed as more unfairly prejudicial than probative of whether the person was impaired on that occasion.  However, a Supreme Court nominee is not on trial, and bears the burden of persuading senators that he is fit to hold the office.  In this case, whether Kavanaugh is alcoholic is very relevant to the question of what occurred and a determination of whether his nomination should be confirmed.

If it turns out the Kavanaugh is an alcoholic, it may point to the terrible damage that abuse of alcohol can cause, and the need to begin education about alcoholism at an early age.  As Kavanaugh is accused of a Jekyll and Hyde personality transformation when intoxicated, if the allegations of sexual assaults are true, it appears possible the sexual assaults would not have occurred without alcohol.  And that would be a shame.  While this author does not support Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court, it would be unfortunate indeed and a waste of considerable legal talent resulting from unaddressed alcoholism that could have been avoided or ameliorated with proper education and treatment before the disease manifested itself to the extent that it did.  And it goes without saying that if he did commit sexual assault, the suffering of his victims can also be blamed on the failure to educate and treat alcoholics before the disease causes harm to themselves and others.

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