The American principle of due process should be used neither as a political football nor a reason to excuse credibly accused abusers who are unlikely to face criminal or civil proceedings. Doing so undermines faith in the criminal justice system and makes it more difficult for victims to receive justice and for the innocent to clear their names.
And, yet, that’s precisely what the Trump administration has been doing, beginning with the president himself.
“Peoples [sic] lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” Donald Trump tweeted Saturday. “Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
The president seemed to be responding to reports about how his administration egregiously handled allegations of domestic abuse by a top White House aide, though some believe it was in defense of a Republican donor, Steve Wynn. Rob Porter, the White House aide, has been accused by two ex-wives of serial domestic abuse. Porter denied the charges, but the evidence included a photo of one of his ex-wives with a blackened eye. The FBI interviewed the women months ago and were told of the allegations, and many inside the White House also knew. Still, they denied anything was wrong and argued in favor of Porter – until the photo made that impossible.
Due process is a critically important standard. It most often refers to defendants having fair trials and representation in a court of law. That’s a legal standard that must always be protected. We should expect the same adherence to the presumption of innocence in the court of public opinion. Baseless accusations should not be allowed to ruin people’s lives.
Due process is a bridge, not a barrier, to justice for the accused and the victim. It means both sides get heard. A lack of due process has forced countless women to endure rather than expose abuse they’ve experienced in their homes. The principle of due process must apply even outside of the courtroom, which means a full, fair hearing wherever disputes erupt. There would be no crisis of sexual abuse and harassment had supervisors throughout the country guaranteed victims fair treatment in their workplaces. Had there been an adherence to that principle, maybe Strategic Behavioral Center in south Charlotte wouldn’t be under investigation for not taking seriously allegations of abuse.
North Carolina knows well what can happen to the falsely accused when due process is short-circuited. Just ask the 2006 Duke lacrosse team.
Porter’s ex-wives, who said they suffered repeated abuse from the now former White House aide, were denied due process. They endured in silence for years.
They are now being heard. No one, not even the president of the United States, should be allowed to make them silent again.