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Judging a judge

The news of an accuser coming forward with claims from the high school days of potential Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh really has me stuck. On one hand, I am glad for any opportunity where a wrong can be righted. On the other hand, what are the rights of the accused?

Kavanaugh is 53 years old. He has served as a federal judge since 2006. Prior to his service on the federal bench, Kavanaugh worked for about 16 years as a lawyer in various government and private sector positions. Regardless of the judge’s legal record or political leanings (in other words, the same logic should apply if this was a liberal rather than conservative judge), it is difficult at first glance to understand why an accusation from high school should have any weight at all.

How can a person’s reputation be so easily questioned on the basis of an incident so far in the past? Why was this not brought up at a much earlier date? Although lawyers get a bad rap (and sometimes deservedly so), there are ethical requirements to maintain the credential necessary to work as a lawyer. An accusation could have been brought at any time in the past number of years.

From the other side, what if the accusation is legitimate? What if what the accuser says happened really did happen? In my work as a chaplain and pastor, I have seen how hard it can be for someone who has been harassed, abused, or assaulted to come forward. I tend to believe someone making an accusation, unless there is substantial reason not to. It is very difficult to expose your own life and hurt to public scrutiny in the course of leveling an accusation.

I have really struggled on this one. I keep tossing it back and forth. To me the worst case scenario would be one in which the accusation is true. But here is where I am right now with what information is publicly available at this time. If the accusation is legitimate, why wait until now to bring it up? If this incident happened and it is indicative of this person’s character, how many people have been impacted by his behavior working as a lawyer and judge these past three decades? Regardless of merit, the timing is exactly what you would expect for a desperation move at the last moment to derail a Supreme Court nominee whose beliefs you disagree with.

I will keep paying attention to developments, and keep mulling over the various angles of this situation. And I am not claiming to have it figured out. But what can I learn from a situation like this?

If you have an accusation to make, bring it forward. If there is wrong, bring it to light. If you have been genuinely hurt, we need you to tell the truth for the good of everyone. If we have learned anything from the scandals in our news, it ought to be that an unwavering commitment to truth matters. Only ignorant or evil people need fear the truth wherever it is found. Jesus said it another way on another topic: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

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