December 13, 2017

Messy But Necessary

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Last week I wrote that Republicans were becoming more willing to believe accusations of sexual misconduct against other Republicans, while Democrats were likewise becoming more willing to accept the truth of accusations against their fellow Democrats.  This represented a major change in attitudes:  Republicans had heretofore believed only charges against Democrats, and Democrats only charges against Republicans.  But now, in each party, the quality and quantity of evidence seem to be becoming more important than the political affiliations of the accused versus the accusers.  In both the Roy Moore case and the Al Franken case, there seems to be a growing consensus in both parties that both men, regardless of their respective party affiliations, probably did what they were accused of doing.

But this morning viewers of NBC’s “Meet the Press” got a timely reminder that due process is still necessary to increase the chances that nobody will be deprived of life, liberty, or property without the full benefit of the legal protections set forth in the United States Constitution.  At issue was the new case of Representative John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan and currently Congress’s longest-serving member, having first been elected to the House of Representatives in 1964, and continuously re-elected ever since.  He’s been accused of sexually harassing a staff member, and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has demanded that he be accorded due process before any disciplinary action is taken against him.

It’s easy to write off Representative Pelosi’s demand for due process as simply a partisan ploy to protect a fellow Democrat, but she does have a point.  Conyers’s case differs from those of Moore and Franken in two basic respects:

First, the evidence against Conyers is still, as of this writing, sketchy, compared to the evidence against Moore and Franken.  Moore’s accusers are numerous, precise and detailed in their charges, and apparently without ulterior motive in coming forward now.  Franken must deal with a gross and disgusting photograph of himself in action against his main accuser.  More must be learned about who’s accusing Conyers of what before judgment can be made of the extent (if any) of his wrongdoing.

Second, at issue in the Conyers’s case are the rights and privileges to which he, as a congressman, would otherwise be entitled too.  But these are not (yet) at issue in either the Moore or Franken case.  Moore has no inherent right to be elected Senator from Alabama.  Each voter, on the other hand, has a perfect right to assess the evidence against Moore and vote his conscience.  And the same is true of Franken, should be run for re-election in 2020.  However unfair the judgment of the voters might be in either case, their right to vote for (or against) whomever they choose, for whatever reasons they choose, is absolute.

But should Moore be elected to the Senate, and should the Senate move to expel him, or Franken, due process becomes necessary.  Each must be afforded the opportunity to defend himself.  Each case, should expulsion or some lesser penalty become a possibility, could take months for a final resolution.  And that’s perfectly okay—serious actions inflicting serious penalties on those adjudged to be wrongdoers should be taken with all deliberate seriousness.

Lurking in the background, of course, is the case of President Trump, who during the 2016 presidential campaign was accused of misconduct by about a dozen women following the release of the Access Hollywood tape (is it only a coincidence that NBC released an unflattering recording of someone who was once one of its most popular reality TV stars only after he had left the network and the polls showed him losing the election?).  There can be no doubt that should the Democrats win back the House and Senate in next year’s election they will make a serious attempt to impeach and remove him from office.  He, too, will deserve due process, at least to the degree extended to Bill Clinton, the last president to be impeached.

Such is the nature of justice—sometimes messy, always necessary.


Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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