What Ought to Matter

I doubt that anyone is very satisfied with the results of the hearings that took place yesterday as part of the elongated confirmation process for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Dr. Christine Ford gave a statement and answered questions about her allegation that Kavanaugh held her down and groped her and her fear that he was going to rape her at a house party 36 years ago when both were in high school. Dr. Ford was tearful at times, her voice racked with emotion, describing herself as “terrified” but motivated by “civic duty” to report what she insists Kavanaugh did to her. She testified that she is “100 percent” certain that it was Kavanaugh who did this to her, even as two men, as yet unidentified, came out and said they were the ones who attacked Ford, and that her allegation against Kavanaugh is a case of mistaken identity.

For his part, Kavanaugh was indignant, angry, tearful at times, as well, as he described how this process represented a “national disgrace” and how the allegations had ruined his family. The previously buttoned-up and proper jurist let go in something of a tirade against the senators who, he claims, have put him and his family “through hell.”

Those who believed Ford prior to yesterday’s testimony likely saw nothing to change their minds, just as those who believed Kavanaugh likely saw nothing to change their minds. Many pundits are talking about how both Ford and Kavanaugh came across as “credible” and “believable.” Critics of Ford expressed cynical awe at her ability to remember minor details like the claim that she had precisely one beer that night, but was unable to remember critical details such as the date and location of the party. Critics of Kavanaugh blasted his testimony as arrogant, what they expected from one so privileged, and questioned his lack of “judicial restraint” by showing so much outrage. Critics of the Republicans talked about how hiring prosecutor Rachel Miller to question Ford was nothing more than an attempt to escape the optics of Ford being questioned by eleven white men. Critics of the Democrats blasted the comical absurdity of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D, RI) interrogating Kavanaugh about farting, vomiting and “F-word” comments he wrote as a sixteen year old boy in his high school yearbook. Such is the eminence of our upper house of Congress!

So much commentary on this circus has been dedicated to the matter of who should be believed. But, what matters, or what ought to matter, has nothing to do with believing or not believing Ford or Kavanaugh. What matters is how possible is it to ascertain the truth. Dr. Ford is a credible person and has lodged serious allegations, and she merits being heard. But, she does not merit being believed on the basis of the fact that she is a woman, or that her allegation involves sexual misconduct. Judge Kavanaugh is also a credible person, and he deserves the opportunity to defend himself. But, he does not deserve to be believed on the basis of the fact that he is a man, or that the consequences he faces are dire.

Ours is not a system of exonerating or condemning those accused of crimes on the basis of who seems more credible or who anyone in particular believes is telling the truth, much less on who is getting the better press, or who is inspiring greater sympathy on social media. Indeed, whether it is Ford or Kavanaugh who is believed in this now national fiasco doubtless says more about who is doing the believing than it does about who is truly believable.

Ours is a system based on the presumption of innocence against proof beyond a reasonable doubt. To discard the presumption of innocence in this or any other case would be to put anyone and everyone in danger of defending themselves against an accusation with one foot already behind bars or, worse, on the executioner’s block. It must not be so. It cannot be so in a nation that prides itself on a commitment to justice rendered justly.

Regardless of the seriousness of Dr. Ford’s accusation, the seeming credibility of her character, or the impassioned nature of her testimony, the fact is there has been no evidence presented that even begins to corrode the presumption of Judge Kavanaugh’s innocence.

Any senator who decides to vote against Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation on the basis of his or her sincere conclusion that he is not competent to serve on the Supreme Court because he lacks the necessary judicial credentials can argue that case and reasonably justify their vote on those grounds, and their constituents can judge the reasonableness of that vote. Any senator, however, who votes against Kavanaugh’s confirmation because they claim that the allegation against him disqualifies him, having proved or proved well enough his being a would-be rapist, is rejecting the foundation of our judicial system and, in my mind, is unqualified to be voting on the matter of confirming justices to any court, much less the Supreme Court.

It was only in 1988 that the Senate Judiciary Committee began holding public hearings for Supreme Court nominees. The Constitution does not require these sort of hearings. The Senate is perfectly capable of considering the qualifications of a potential Supreme Court justice without these kinds of hearings, as it did for most of our nation’s history. Given that these hearings have become as much or more an opportunity for individual senators to showboat or demonstrate their wares in hopes of future presidential runs more than a serious and considered means of evaluating the qualifications of potential justices, perhaps it’s time the Senate stopped having these hearings and carried out their Constitutional duties in a much more productive, meaningful, less clownish and embarrassing way. The nation could well benefit from giving senators fewer chances to publicly shame themselves and us.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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