Most of the political and legal underpinning of the United States came about as a response by the Founding Fathers to the injustices which they had seen in the British political system. The division of authority between the federal government and the states and between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches was intended to prevent the consolidation of power by which the monarch could oppress the citizens. Abuses by the British Star Chamber - a superior court originally intended to keep the aristocracy in line, but later used to arbitrarily mete out punishments for the king's enemies - led to protections for defendants such as the fifth amendment to the American constitution, guaranteeing protection against self-incrimination. The Founders were also conscious of the risk of mob rule with democracy run amok as in the French Revolution and the Salem witch trials of the 1690's. The presumption of innocense and the rules of evidence evolved as protections for the individual against both the establishment and the mob. They form the cornerstone of our individual liberty, and for centuries have been a key part of our national concept of justice.
Fast forward to 2018 with Trump Derangement Syndrome and the Democrats' obsession with preventing the establishment of a conservative Supreme Court. There are many downsides to the circus which Diane Feinstein unleashed by bypassing the Senate Judiciary Committee's process for investigating nominees and withholding sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Kavanaugh - the damaged reputation of an exemplary person; the emotional stress on the judge's wife and daughters; the emotional stress on Dr. Ford and her family; the further cheapening of civil discourse in the country; the heightening of animosity between men and women of good will; and the public's continuing low esteem for politicians and Congress.
The reality of the events described by Dr. Ford are unknowable. She says he did it; he says he didn't. The potential corroborating witnesses - including her female friend who was allegedly at the party - have no memory of the event, and she told nobody until decades later. She seems to have come forward in good faith, but fell afoul of the national political system in which the Democrats, particularly Senator Feinstein, held her story for maximum political effect, leaking it without permission at the last minute in an attempt to delay or derail Judge Kavanaugh's appointment. Seeing an opportunity to drive up their standing with women prior to the November elections, they seized it. Driven by political deadlines the Republicans refused to delay to allow further investigation which would have been marginally helpful, but which would have kept the window open for other unsubstantiated claims to come forward. Little in the handling will encourage other victims of sexual abuse to subject themselves to public inquiry.
The real damage to the nation is the abandonment of the presumption of innocence in the absence of credible evidence - at least in the case of conservatives. (Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and Keith Ellison are a different story.) Prior to hearing either side of the case, Senator Chris Coons proudly placed the "burden of proof" on Judge Kavanaugh, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared that there was no "presumption of innocense." In the heat of the political moment that may garner support from the women of the #MeToo movement, but it represents a repudiation of the rule of law as it has been practiced in the United States since our inception. Thoughtful Democrats - as well as Republicans and independents - should reflect on whether that is too high a price to pay for the rejection of a superbly qualified Supreme Court justice.
bill bowen - 9/28/18