To accuse is not proof of the truth

The flurry of accusations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the attendant surge in the past few days of the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport hashtags has resurfaced for me a topic I’ve wanted to discuss, and on this day I’m happy to say that it is a topic which has nothing to do, at least not directly, with the president we cannot shake from the headlines for even one stinking day.  (Today he had to suffer the indignity of having the United Nations General Assembly laugh at him; I admit I enjoyed that very much.)  I’ve had this thought in the past year or so as events have forced the issue of sexual violence against women into public discussion, which is for the good, but now I’m hearing a drumbeat more loudly, more certain and more forcefully stated: the belief that all right-thinking Americans must accept all accusations by women of sexual harassment or sexual assault or rape at face value, without exception and without the need of corroborating evidence.  I’ve got a problem with that.  Let me risk stirring up multiple hornet’s nests all at once.

I have no problem with the protesters who argue Black Lives Matter, because I think I understand what they mean.  They do not mean black lives matter more than white lives (or the lives of any other color), despite the counterargument from some mostly disingenuous people who are trying to diminish the BLM effort.  The protesters are trying to persuade their fellow Americans that despite our country’s clear history of treating black people as less than people—even writing it into our Constitution—an inequitable, ignorant, hateful behavior that continues today, they are appealing to our better angels to persuade us that black lives matter, too.  At least that’s how I understand it.

They’re not saying that white lives don’t matter; they’re not saying that white lives matter less than black lives.  They’re calling attention to the recent string of deaths of black people, mostly young black men, at the hands of law enforcement across the country, in questionable circumstances, to try to make us all see the unfairness which they recognize as part of their daily lives.  The protests grow out of their personal experience, and they’re arguing for a commitment on behalf of all of us to the American ideal of fair treatment for all.  That’s also what the athletes are saying when they demonstrate during the national anthem: they aren’t protesting the song, or the flag, or the military, or the country in general, despite what you hear from the president (listen instead to the many many veterans who acknowledge that the right to this protest is exactly the thing they went to war to protect).  The players are taking advantage of their position in the public eye at that moment to do the thoroughly American thing of exercising their freedom of speech.  We each of us is free to disagree with their methods if we choose.

Now, I’m not saying that women in America have been treated the same way that black people have been treated.  (To any commenters who would criticize me for saying just such a thing, I refer you now to the previous sentence where I say quite plainly that I am not saying that.)  But I think it’s clear that women have been, and still are, treated differently from men in American society—there’s a Constitution thing there, too, of course—and that today they are making another push on behalf of their equality as Americans.  Specifically, they are speaking up on the subject of how, historically and contemporaneously, they have been and still are the victims of sexual violence.

In a society devised primarily by men with laws written primarily by men, in a society in which women were not considered equal citizens to the men, it should not be surprising that the men in charge protected themselves from accusations of sexual assault by women.  We can be ashamed of it, but not surprised.  Women were treated as property, as live-in baby-makers and babysitters and household help, and as “things” to be used by a man for his pleasure.  The men of those times turned a deaf ear to any woman’s protest of mistreatment, knowing that the woman would not be taken seriously and that even if her complaint were believed, well, so what.  The women of the time came to know the likely result of speaking up, and so they didn’t.

In more modern times we like to think that we’ve become enlightened enough not to behave in that way toward women; recent examples abound that prove how wrong we have been to think that.  Even as women became more financially independent of the men in their lives and more able to sustain a public accusation, they knew that the default response of male-dominated society remained to disbelieve and to dismiss accusations, and to find ways to punish the accusers for having accused.

What is changing now—for the good, I believe—is that the public airing of accusations of sexual assault has caused the scales to fall from more men’s eyes, for us all to recognize that this is real and pervasive, and to feel at least a little sick to our stomachs that we’ve closed our eyes to this reality for so long and allowed the women in our lives to suffer.  We’re coming around, as a society, to having our default response to these accusations be to search for the truth rather than to dismiss the charge out of hand.  Yea, America!

What concerns me is those who are filled with the fervor of the rising tide of righteousness who go a step too far and treat any accusation of sexual assault as proof of the truth of the charge.  It’s the right response to take an accusation seriously, and to investigate as we do when any crime is alleged; but it’s not right to assess a guilty verdict and hand out punishment solely on the basis of an unproved accusation.

Some of the accusations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh seem more believable than others; inasmuch as they are being made against a nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States, who proclaims his innocence of the charges, they deserve to be investigated to try to determine if they are true or false, and to learn what we can about the nominee in the process.  (BTW, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee: that’s exactly what the FBI does; that’s what it’s there for…put it to work).   Let the system work; there is no reason to rush a vote on this nomination…well, no good reason, anyway.  The GOP proved quite clearly, thank you, when refusing to take any action at all on the nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016, that the Supreme Court can get along nicely with one seat vacant.

America’s growing recognition of the ways in which our country has not lived up to the lofty goals of our Founders, and our continuing efforts to make those wrongs right, must continue.  Reaching the ideals of equal treatment under the law and providing a level playing field for all Americans, of being the open and welcoming society of our dreams, will take longer than we would like it to but we’ve got to keep going, keep our eyes on the prize.  But we won’t get there by trashing our belief in innocence until proven otherwise.

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America moves one step closer to gay marriage rights, and the silence from opponents speaks volumes

Today a panel of a federal appeals court in California ruled that state’s Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution approved by voters in 2008 to outlaw gay marriage, is an unconstitutional violation of the right to equal protection under the law.  The appeals panel agreed with the federal district court decision which found marriage to be a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution, and that there has to be a good reason to limit the exercise of that right to only certain people—in this case, one-man-and-one-woman couples.

Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted.

(snip)

All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of “marriage,” which symbolizes state legitimization and societal recognition of their committed relationships.  Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California…

The ruling was limited in scope and does not address whether “same-sex couples may ever be denied the right to marry.”  The court found that since “California had already extended to committed same-sex couples both the incidents of marriage and the official designation of ‘marriage,’ and Proposition 8’s only effect was to take away that important and legally significant designation, while leaving in place all of its incidents,” the court was able to rule on Proposition 8’s constitutionality without need to address the larger issue.  But that is the grounds where the ultimate appeal will be argued.  Supporters of this discriminatory and downright uncharitable proposition have the choice of appealing the case to either the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit or the United States Supreme Court; since that’s where we know the case is going to have to go eventually, I say let’s get on with it.

I’ll continue to argue that there is no good reason for gay people to be treated differently than straight people under the law when it comes to the exercise of the fundamental right to marry, or in fact the exercise of any fundamental civil right.  Various religions may restrict their rites and sacraments among their members according to their beliefs, but civil law protects the rights of all Americans and there’s no room for exceptions that serve only to salve the theological objections of one religion or another.  That’s what the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is all about: no restrictions on an individual’s religious practice, but no religion’s law takes precedence in civil life.

Many of the voices opposed to gay marriage claim to believe they are protecting “family values” or “conservative values.”  Fine; I take them at their word.  What I’m arguing in favor of are American values: equality; liberty; fairness; tolerance; justice.  The argument was made most persuasively by the plaintiffs’ attorneys in this case, Republican Ted Olson and Democrat David Boies.  In August 2010, when the federal district court overturned Proposition 8, Olson made the case so clearly in a discussion with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.  Click here to look at the clip and read the transcript.

We do not put the Bill of Rights to a vote….We ask judges to make sure that when we vote for something we’re not depriving minorities of their constitutional rights.

(snip)

…we have a 14th Amendment that guarantees equal rights to all citizens. It’s not judicial activism when judges do what the Constitution requires them to do, and they follow the precedent of previous decisions of the Supreme Court.

(snip)

If 7 million Californians were to decide that we should have separate but equal schools, or that we would send some of our citizens to separate drinking fountains, or have them be in the back of the bus, that would be unconstitutional.

(snip)

…we believe that a conservative value is stable relationships and a stable community and loving individuals coming together and forming a basis that is a building block of our society, which includes marriage…We also believe that it’s an important conservative value to sustain the rights of liberty of our citizens and to eliminate discrimination on invidious bases, whether it’s race, or sex or sexual orientation. It should be a liberal and a conservative value. It is a fundamental American value.

As I’ve argued before, the tide has turned.  Homosexuals serve openly in the armed forces; more states have legalized marriage between two people of the same sex, and are giving up efforts to stop gay people from adopting children; and now, when One Million Moms (hardly…it’s the American Family Association) calls on J.C. Penney to drop Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman because she is openly gay, even Bill O’Reilly thinks it’s a McCarthy-esque “witch hunt”!  Surely, the times they are a-changing.

Don’t let the rules of evidence get in the way of a guilty verdict, not when you can change the rules

Did I grow up on another planet?  Was my education about the basics of a criminal trial, or even just the nature of plain old fairness, totally alien?  Apparently so, when I read what the Texas Legislature is up to

We here in the Texas state senate are voting to change a rule of evidence in criminal trials.  Now, this wouldn’t be for every criminal trial, just a special kind of case, one where the defendant is accused of rape or sexual assault.  Y’see, people accused of rape or sexual assault—not convicted or admitted rapists, mind you, but accused rapists—they are so clearly evil (evident by the fact that they have been accused) that we think our good God-fearing prosecutors deserve a little help inflaming the passions of connecting with the jury.

This bill would make it legal in rape and sexual assault cases for the state to present evidence to a jury—after the judge hears the evidence outside the presence of the jury and decides that it is relevant—that at some time in the past there had been similar allegations of rape or sexual assault made against this same defendant.  Now, we’re not talking about telling the jury about a person’s record of criminal convictions during the punishment phase of the trial, after they already found the guy guilty of the new charge; that’s already in the law.  No, we mean telling the jury before they reach a verdict in this case about any time in the past when the same defendant was ever even accused of a similar crime.

Now, just to be clear: we’re not saying the jury should know that this guy was once arrested, or indicted, or tried on a similar charge; that’s OK and all, but we mean we want it to be OK for the jury that hasn’t yet decided if this scumbag’s defendant’s guilty of this crime to be told if he was ever accused of any similar crime—doesn’t matter if he was never arrested, or indicted, or tried on the previous accusation.

You and I both know that there’s some of them whiny types (folks who came here from New York City, probably) who’d say we’re ignoring fundamental rights and revving up some kind of witch hunt, but they just don’t understand how we do things here in Texas, is all.  We’re putting this together to go with a new package of laws we think’ll be good for Texas, stuff like:

Not getting all spun up about $27 billion in state budget “challenges” and starting the session off with having Governor Haircut declare that things like mandatory pre-abortion sonograms and outlawing sanctuary cities and demanding Congress pass a balanced budget amendment are emergencies, and need to go to the head of the legislative line; and

Making sure we get our money’s worth out of our lazy-ass liberal college professors by putting a premium on productivity and emphasizing more time in the classroom, not that egg-headed research they’re so keen on; and

Seeing to it that the long-suffering public servants in the Legislature get the treatment they deserve and can carry their concealed handguns in places like bars and amusement parks, places where we already decided it wouldn’t be safe to have everyone packing.

Any questions?  Well, thanks for your attention.

These are my favorite stories about the Texas Legislature:

There was a “typo” when they wrote the state constitution back in 1876—they didn’t mean to have the legislature in session for 140 days every two years, they meant for it to be two days every 140 years.

In the 1970s the mayor of Austin, who was noted for an irreverent sense of humor, was holding his weekly news conference and a reporter idly mentioned, “Well, the Legislature’s coming back to town soon.”  The mayor’s immediate response: “Lock up the kids and dogs!”