Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is working to restore due process rights on college campuses, where accusations of rape or sexual assault can and have ruined the lives of young men. For her efforts, she is being accused of being on the side of rapists and an enemy of young women, mostly by left-leaning commentators.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is celebrating the subversion of due process in civil asset forfeiture cases, claiming that he “loves” the program and saying taking the property of “drug dealers” is “fun.” Civil asset forfeiture, of course, is the procedure that allows law enforcement to seize private property suspected of being used in a crime, without actually having to convict the owner of anything. Sadly, his attitude is shared by many on the Right, whose “tough on crime” stances lead them to dismiss the rights of the accused.
These two positions are mirror images of each other, each one insisting that due process is not important — for a specific group of Americans. But this is not how our system works, nor should it be. The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process to every American. It’s not just for white men, nor is it just for women and minorities. It’s for everyone. Since when do we let identity politics interfere with our basic Constitutional principles? Equal treatment under the law — the Fourteenth Amendment — has not become less relevant over the years.
It’s tempting to shy away from the DeVos case because no one wants to talk about rape, and understandably so. It shouldn’t be necessary to say that every decent human being is categorically against rapists, without qualification. Anyone convicted of such a crime should face the full wrath of the legal system, and he will receive no pity from me. But what Betsy DeVos is doing is not about rape, and it’s certainly not about defending rapists. It’s about the basic rights of American citizens to face their accusers and get a fair trial from a jury of their peers.
Put simply, due process is one of the most important checks on government power. It prevents the tyranny of leaders punishing citizens arbitrarily or for political purposes. In countries that lack due process rights, it is not uncommon for dictators to casually make their enemies disappear and to shut down opposition movements in the most brutal ways possible. What makes America different is that our founders recognized the dangers of unlimited authority and took steps to protect individuals from both mob mentality and the whims of political rulers.
If those protections are to mean anything, they have to be applied evenly, to every citizen. We should no more ban college students from receiving due process than we should ban racial and ethnic minorities. I understand how emotional and personal the issue of campus sexual assault is; all crimes of such horrendous violence are emotionally charged. But that doesn’t mean that we should pile injustice upon injustice by denying the accused the right to defend themselves.
It’s time to stop applying the Bill of Rights selectively and opportunistically and recognize that these protections have to apply to everyone if they are to apply to anyone.