Job confirmation hearings are not a court of law

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

One of the most enduring written constitutions in the world is that of the United States.

When it was drawn up in the 1780s, in the aftermath of the War of Independence from Britain, the Scots Irish were an influential minority in the new United States and some of its most prominent people helped shaped the document.

Today the most important role of the most powerful court into the richest country in the world — the US Supreme Court — is to interpret that constitution.

The nine judges on the court serve for life and some of have stayed in place to age 90. The ideological make-up of the court has huge ramifications on matters from taxation to contested rights issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion.

These topics are every bit as controversial in America as they are here. At the weekend the conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as the latest justice after a disturbing episode in which he was accused of sexual assault at aged 17 and the Senate judiciary committing investigated the claims.

The notion that victims of historic sexual assault deserve justice even if it is decades later is a well established one in Europe and America. It is increasingly resulting in convictions for crimes that went unpunished for many years. But a court of law is the place for such a conviction if proven to the criminal standard. Justice Kavanaugh did not show an attractive temperament when grilled but confirmation hearings for a job, however important, are not the forum in which to examine such claims, particularly when the candidate for the post already has enemies, due to the way his outlook on life might shape the law.

Thus it is not so much appropriate to say that the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh is a good thing as to say that the thwarting of his candidacy on the basis of those claims (a historic one that had not before been made to police) and in those circumstances (a circus confirmation hearing) would have been a bad thing for public life in America.