A far cry from the folly of youth
Justice is a fickle friend. It favours the fortunate. Despite our intentions — our honourable hopes for a system that will rebalance the scales when things go badly awry — the justice system, as a human invention, is as fallible as all things human.
But still, we must cling to it, as the alternative — lawless apathy — isn’t an alternative at all.
As such, it becomes even more important that the people tasked with the responsibility of upholding the framework of societal stability should be as principled and skilful as possible.
The law, that supposedly dispassionate instrument of right and wrong, is only as righteous as its officers. Which is why the idea of a Supreme Court justice tarnished by multiple sexual harassment and assault allegations in any jurisdiction is so dangerous.
Hypothetically, if a society appoints judges who have escaped justice and thwarted the law, the system becomes a sham. (More of a sham than it already is, that is, when you consider the frightfully low conviction rates for crimes of a sexual nature.)
An allegation is only an allegation. As citizens of developed democracies, we are entitled to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.
As a human rights supporter, I believe that those rights are sacred, but what happens when justice overwhelmingly seems to flow in only one direction? What happens when the system that is supposed to protect the rights of victims ends up shielding perpetrators?
When an estimated six sex offenders in 1000 land in prison (in the United States) while the others walk free, it seems overwhelmingly apparent to me that the system has failed abysmally.
It is against this background that Brett Kavanaugh has been put forward as a candidate for the vacancy left by Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court of the United States.
Judge Kavanaugh has not been convicted of any crime. He has, however, been accused of sexual misconduct during his younger years by (at the time of writing) three different women.
There will be many who feel uneasy about the idea of “unproven” allegations impacting upon the reputations of presumed innocent citizens. I’m among them.
Over the past decade, though, I’ve become more uneasy about the failure of the system to reliably deliver justice to victims of crimes of a sexual nature. The emergence of the #MeToo movement is a direct consequence of a failing justice system.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard questions asked about whether an incident that happened when a man was a teenager should follow him his entire life. I’ve heard musings about whether “youthful mistakes” should cost someone their career.
Forcibly holding someone down, covering their mouth and trying to initiate non-consensual sexual contact with them could be characterised as many things, but a folly of youth is not one of them.
Other allegations against Kavanaugh include trying to spike the drinks of vulnerable young women for the purpose of gang raping them. If such things can be swept under the rug without consequence, how can any teenage girl reasonably feel safe?
Let’s be clear. Alleged “youthful mistakes” have not cost Brett Kavanaugh his career. To date, he has had an extremely successful career. Until now, he had never suffered a single public consequence as a result of his alleged “indiscretions”.
That changed because he has opted to apply for a job as a one of the most powerful people in the United States of America; a job that he will be offered for the rest of his life. The kind of job that requires not only incredible skill from a candidate, but impeccable, unimpeachable character and judgment.
What if a 17-year-old murdered someone, and the crime was only discovered many decades later, when he had gone on to live an apparently moral life? Should the crime of taking someone’s life be ignored, because the criminal who committed the crime had since managed to make something of his life, or should justice prevail?
Sexual abuse is not murder, but it is a form of taking a life. When sexual abuse occurs, your heart continues to beat, but the life that you would’ve had — one free from trauma, one in which your most intimate boundaries hadn’t been violated — is gone. You survive. You work through things as best you can. But you are not the same.
A part of you cracks, and while you can repair it and grow strong again, that scar seldom disappears.
The gravity of the accusations levelled at Judge Kavanaugh means that they can’t simply be swept under the rug. A process of robust investigation by the FBI is the only way to protect the already compromised credibility of the Supreme Court.
If Kavanaugh is nominated and confirmed without a completely clean record, the Supreme Court risks looking like a joke, particularly given the presence of Judge Clarence Thomas, who was famously accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill in 1991. What message is sent to victims of sexual assault and harassment, if two of the most powerful arbiters of justice in the entire country might have victimised people themselves?
Politically, the stakes are high. Politics and the courts are inevitably intertwined in most countries, but in the United States, politicians and judges may as well be the same thing.
The same battles are fought in courtrooms as are waged on Capitol Hill. Republicans and Democrats, those two sides of the same coin, are locked into an interminable stoush to impose their world views upon each other.
Justice, like every other power structure in the modern United States, is certainly not impartial. The appointment of Kavanaugh risks more than just political backlash, however.
If a Republican president who has himself been accused of sexual assault by multiple women is able to install on the bench a justice with multiple sexual misconduct allegations to his name, he may as well declare open warfare against women. He won’t win. Hell hath no fury like a sisterhood scorned.
Alleged “youthful mistakes” have not cost Brett Kavanaugh his career.