The recent controversy over newly-appointed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh placed in opposition the concepts of due process versus trust in an accuser’s word. This time, the principle won out that evidence is required before consenting to ruin a man’s life and career. While most on the left of the political divide were against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, it might be surprising to many that the judge was supported by an unlikely group: black Americans. These individuals know what a lack of due process looks like, and they do not appreciate any attempt to subvert the notion of “innocent until proven guilty.”
But it seems that not everyone believes in the value of due process for everyone, and in fact a recent piece written for The Atlantic by journalist Jemele Hill demonstrates the uncanny ability to inject racism into any news story – even if it isn’t about race. After donning her bigotry-colored glasses, Hill penned an article lamenting the fact that a significant number of black men supported Brett Kavanaugh in the face of unsubstantiated allegations of sexual assault.
The author claimed that the black men who voiced concerns over a lack of evidence were “missing” something.
Hill explains that she heard, to her surprise and dismay, many black men siding with Kavanaugh instead of his accusers at conferences. She writes that while she expected to hear them express frustration at the result of the hearings, “Instead, I encountered sympathy. One man stood up and asked, passionately, ‘What happened to due process?’ He was met with a smattering of applause, and an array of head nods.”
Hill goes on to explain that she understands why black Americans might be focused on the importance of due process. After all, a recent University of Michigan study revealed that blacks are exonerated for unfair convictions at a far higher rate than any other race. The study reports:
“African Americans are only 13% of the American population but a majority of innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes and later exonerated. They constitute 47% of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations (as of October 2016), and the great majority of more than 1,800 additional innocent defendants who were framed and convicted of crimes in 15 large-scale police scandals and later cleared in “group exonerations.”
The study indicates that blacks are disproportionately accused and convicted of crimes they did not commit. In light of this data, one would expect blacks to value the notion of due process, right? Well, according to Hill, this is not the appropriate response.
Later in her piece, she refers to the case of Brian Banks, a high school senior who was preparing to start a football career at the University of Southern California. His plans were derailed by a false rape accusation in 2012. Instead of facing 41 years in prison, Banks struck a plea deal that reduced his sentence to five years.
After his release from jail, the California Innocence Project helped Banks prove that he had been falsely accused. Banks was exonerated, but his life had still been ruined – he never got to have a football career, and he lost five years of his life.
But Hill does not think Bank’s story provides an example demonstrating why a thorough examination of evidence is important. She writes:
But if it’s possible to look at Banks’s example and understand why some black men identified with Kavanaugh, it’s impossible to look at it closely without arriving at a very different set of conclusions.
Banks had none of the advantages that Kavanaugh enjoyed: no legions of well-connected friends to vouch for him, no army of partisan defenders, no politicians rallying to his defense. Banks faced spending the bulk of his life in jail; Kavanaugh risked losing a promotion. The reason black men are three and a half times as likely as whites to be exonerated after being convicted of sexual assault is that there’s generally been one standard for suburban prep-school athletes, and another for the Brian Bankses of this country.”
And there you have it: racism! According to Hill, blacks shouldn’t apply the standards of due process to Kavanaugh because he was a white, suburban prep-school athlete and had plenty of resources at his disposal. It is the same type of thinking that is promoted by blacks who supported O.J. Simpson because white murderers supposedly get away with their crimes. Hill points out, “If Kavanaugh were black, how many people would empathize and relate to his circumstances?”
Due Process for All
Let’s have some real talk here. If Kavanaugh were a left-leaning judge being appointed by President Obama, Hill would probably never have written this piece. Instead, she would likely be arguing that he was being railroaded. After all, where are her protestations against the treatment of Justice Clarence Thomas, who also had shaky allegations of sexual impropriety leveled at him? Did he not have “legions of well-connected friends” to vouch for him? Didn’t he have an “army of partisan defenders” and “politicians rallying” to his defense?
Hill is the one missing an important point: Due process should be applied to everyone, not just to blacks. Yes, it is true that some people possess resources that are not available to the average person. In no way does this mean that these individuals are not entitled to the same protections as everyone else.
Supporting Kavanaugh’s right to due process is the appropriate response for black men because they understand that they are more likely to be denied a fair hearing. Black Americans understand that the Fifth Amendment should apply to everyone equally, and removing this right for white men is just as despicable as taking it away from blacks. If anyone believes that this right is not being fairly applied to blacks, then they should fight to gain this right and not to erode it.