In 2000, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Back then, I was given a 28 percent chance of living 10 years - and I beat the disease. One of the many lessons I learned from that experience is that we each have a bank of time in our lives, and it's up to us to determine how we spend it. I promised myself that I wouldn't waste my time.
It's one of many reasons that my vote against Judge Brett Kavanaugh wasn't about politics. Rather, it was about a duty and responsibility I have as a U.S. senator to exercise my judgment to support and protect our institutions and country when determining a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
Fully considering and vetting Supreme Court nominees is one of the most important jobs of any U.S. senator. I did my job - by meeting with Kavanaugh, closely watching his hearings, and reviewing his available record during this evaluation process, including the nonpartisan FBI investigation which I called for.
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Unfortunately, too many politicians on both sides of the aisle announced their support or opposition to the nominee the minute he was announced - before we learned anything about him or his record. That's not advice and consent - that's putting party over country and abandoning your job.
We need to take politics out of the Supreme Court, and it takes Republicans and Democrats to help make that possible. Both sides horribly handled the process around this nomination. We must learn from these mistakes.
I voted for Justice Gorsuch because I felt his legal ability and temperament qualified him to serve on the Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh was different. He and I had a good meeting. But the hearing during which he and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified was a turning point. In addition to the concerns about Kavanaugh's past conduct, the hearing called into question his current temperament, honesty and impartiality - critical traits for a Supreme Court justice.
I was particularly disturbed when I saw his exchange with Sen. Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. She asked him a tough but fair question completely relevant to his and Ford's testimony. He aggressively and angrily threw the question back at her - not once, but twice - showing that when he was in a tough spot, his response was to attack and double down. That inability to handle a difficult question is unacceptable behavior for someone in a job interview for the highest court in the U.S.
Additionally, I have spent much of my time in public service - including as North Dakota's Attorney General - focused on combating domestic violence and protecting women and children from abuse. As attorney general, I helped implement the original Violence Against Women Act and I saw how it helped survivors and victims across my state. As a U.S. senator, the reauthorization of the law was the first bill I helped pass. My lifetime of work, advocacy and commitment to these issues, and to these women and girls, also helped inform my decision.
Ford gave courageous, credible and persuasive testimony. When I listened to her testify, I used my judgment as someone who has worked with domestic assault and violence victims. Through Ford, I heard the voices of women I have known throughout my life who have similar stories of sexual assault and abuse. Countless North Dakotans and others close to me have since reached out and told me their stories of being raped or sexually assaulted - and expressed the same anguish and fear. I'm in awe of their bravery. Survivors should be respected for having the strength to share what happened to them - regardless of the passage of time. The scars and suffering from the trauma and abuse never leave.
There are many extremely qualified conservative lawyers and judges available to serve a lifetime appointment on the court, and the president should have nominated someone else. The court doesn't need another East Coast elite. Instead, the court needs someone from the west, who went to a public university, who understands our issues - important perspectives that are currently lacking on the court.
In the end, I needed to be able to look at myself in the mirror and know that I did the right thing and that I voted with my conscience and my heart. And that's what I did.
Heitkamp represents North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.