Stolen shamelessly from the Wall Street Journal:
This Is No Mere ‘Job Interview’
Even in the court of public opinion, basic fairness should preclude conviction without clear evidence.
Alan M. Dershowitz
Sept. 30, 2018 9:25 a.m. ET
Until Judge Brett Kavanaugh was accused of horrible crimes—sexual assault, lewd conduct and even gang rape—his confirmation hearings could fairly, if not entirely accurately, be characterized as a “job interview.” The burden was on him to demonstrate his suitability to serve on the Supreme Court. He apparently met that burden in the eyes of a majority, a partisan one to be sure, and seemed on the way to getting the job.
But now everything has changed. So should the burden of persuasion. The behavior of which Judge Kavanaugh has been accused is so serious and devastating that it requires a high level of proof before forming the basis for his rejection. There is an enormous and dispositive difference between a candidate’s rejection on ideological grounds, as was the case with Robert Bork, and rejection on the ground that he has committed crimes warranting lifetime imprisonment rather than a lifetime appointment.
Being on the Supreme Court is a privilege, not a right. But being disqualified based on a false accusation of a crime would be a violation of the fundamental right to fairness. Some will argue that the issue of Judge Kavanaugh’s ideological and professional qualifications should be merged with the sexual allegations and that doubts should be resolved against a lifetime appointment.
In some cases that would be a plausible argument. But it is too late for that kind of nuanced approach now, because these accusations have received world-wide attention. Judge Kavanaugh is on trial for his life. At stake are his career, his family, his legacy and a reputation earned over many decades as a lawyer and judge.
If he is now denied the appointment, it will be because he has been depicted as a sexual predator who deserves contempt, derision and possible imprisonment. He may no longer be able to teach law, coach sports or expect to be treated respectfully. He could be forced to resign his current judicial position, because having a “convicted” rapist on the bench is unseemly. For these reasons, he now has the right—perhaps not a legal right, but a right based on fundamental fairness—to have the charges against him put to the test of clear and convincing evidence or some standard close to that.
The court of public opinion is different from a court of law, but it too is an important court. Wouldn’t anyone rather be convicted in a court of law of drunken driving—also a serious crime—than convicted in the court of public opinion of being a serial sex predator? Many would even rather go to prison for a year on drunken driving charges than be labeled a sexual predator for life. In a nation dedicated to fairness and due process, explicit constitutional rights often serve as a metaphor and guide in the kind of basic fairness we demand even in nonlegal proceedings. That model should operate here as well.
Had Judge Kavanaugh been rejected on ideological or professional grounds before these sordid accusations were leveled, he could go back to his life, as Robert Bork did. But if the Senate fails to confirm him now, his life will never be the same.
Some would argue that if Judge Kavanaugh is now confirmed in the face of these serious accusations, it will have an equally damaging effect on the life, reputation and credibility of his accusers. That is false. Even if he is confirmed, those accusers will be treated as heroes by the many people who believe them. It will not have close to the impact on them that a failure to be confirmed will have on Judge Kavanaugh. The best evidence of that is Anita Hill, who has gone on to a distinguished career as an academic, writer, commentator and feminist. The stakes are simply not comparable.
I don’t know whether Judge Kavanaugh is guilty, innocent or somewhere in between. I don’t know whether he told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Judge Kavanaugh wouldn’t have been my candidate of choice for the Supreme Court. I am a liberal Democrat who believes Republicans improperly denied Judge Merrick Garland a seat on the high court.
But this is no longer about who would make the best Supreme Court justice. It is about the most fundamental issues of fairness this country has faced since the McCarthy era, when innocent people were accused of trying to overthrow the government and had their lives ruined based on false accusations, while being denied all semblance of due process or fairness. The American Civil Liberties Union stood strong against McCarthyism by demanding due process and hard evidence. But the ACLU now argues that “unresolved questions regarding credible allegations of sexual assault” be resolved against the accused nominee.
We have come a long way since McCarthyism, but we now live in an age that risks a new form of sexual McCarthyism. We must not go to that even darker place. The best way of assuring that we don’t is to accord every person regardless of his status, the kind of fundamental fairness we would expect for ourselves if we were accused.
Mr. Dershowitz is a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of “The Case Against Impeaching Trump.”