Presumption of innocence is crucial right for working class

By Terry Evans
October 15, 2018

Democrats continue to lead a furious attack on key political and constitutional rights after Christine Blasey Ford presented her unproven and uncorroborated allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Sept. 27.

During the hearing liberal Senators especially targeted the presumption of innocence, a right workers fought for and need as we organize against attacks by the bosses and their backers in both the Republican and Democratic parties.

After the hearing President Donald Trump agreed to a Senate request to get Washington’s political police, the FBI, to question certain people of interest about the charges.

Democrats seek to defeat the nomination both to advance their unremitting efforts to oust Trump from the presidency and to prevent the Supreme Court from again having a majority of judges with a conservative reputation.

Like all nominations to the Supreme Court, the White House nominated Kavanaugh to advance ruling-class interests against working people. Kavanaugh worked on Kenneth Starr’s failed efforts to impeach former President William Clinton. He was a staff secretary for former President George W. Bush, working on his administration’s efforts to advance the imperialist rulers’ “war on terror,” including the expansion of domestic spying operations and its abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

Ford told the Senate hearing that she was certain Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her 36 years ago on a day and place she doesn’t recall. She initially made the allegation anonymously, hoping it would be privately investigated. But once her name was leaked to the press the Democrats seized on her claim to try to push the nomination deliberations beyond the November midterm elections. The one other person Ford says was present when the assault occurred says he remembers nothing about it ever happening.

No criminal charges have been laid against Kavanaugh over Ford’s claims, nor over two subsequent even more unverified allegations since. Kavanaugh described the allegations as “last-minute smears.”

Senate hearings are not empowered to try anyone and Kavanaugh faces no sentencing. But the hearing and frame-up campaign in the New York Times, Washington Postand other liberal organs, is becoming like a public trial. Only one where the presumption of innocence, reasonable doubt and due process don’t count. Anything goes.

Democrats, the liberal press and the middle-class left have pumped up their hysteria, echoing the #MeToo internet campaign that says survivors of sexual assault “must be believed.” All that is needed they say, is the existence of a woman’s accusation to know that it is true.

But far from this assertion being an expression of the rights of women, it’s an attack on rights. It undermines the fight for women’s emancipation, which can only be carried through to the end by working people fighting to take and use political power, a struggle that requires defending, not relinquishing constitutional protections.

Presumption of innocence

All this undercuts hard-won rights that the burden of proof rests on the accuser, not the accused — who should be presumed innocent and treated as such, unless their guilt is proved at a trial beyond any reasonable doubt.

The announcement of the FBI probe delighted ex-FBI boss James Comey. He’s a hero of the left because he tried to swing the 2016 election for Hillary Clinton and has been at the forefront of efforts to discredit Trump. Those pursuing this crusade serve to boost the credibility of the bosses’ political police that has a history of spying and disruption against the workers’ movement and social struggles.

In an op-ed printed in the TimesSept. 30, Comey urged FBI agents to be “relentless” in questioning witnesses. Comey says any refusal to talk to the FBI, a right protected by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, “is its own kind of statement,” inferring that those who claim the right not to incriminate themselves have something to hide. With no evidence Comey accused Kavanaugh of “obvious” lying at the committee’s hearings.

The working class has no interest in whether Kavanaugh makes it onto the rulers’ Supreme Court. Both Democrats and Republicans venerate the court and the judges who sit on it as guardians of the capitalist “justice” system. Whether a judge on the left or right of bourgeois politics is placed on the court, will not change the fact that it will make rulings to serve the interests of the exploiting class as it has done for hundreds of years.

But the presumption of innocence doesmatter. It’s a right working people have had to fight for in the course of innumerable union and class-struggle battles, during the Black-led mass mobilizations that toppled Jim Crow segregation and in struggles to oppose the rulers’ wars. The notion that all you need to know is a woman’s accusation to establish guilt flies in the face of the lessons of these struggles. False accusations of sexual abuse and rape have been used to target African-Americans like the Scottsboro Boys and working-class fighters as well.

Nine African-American teenagers were framed up and eight of them sentenced to death after fabricated accusations of rape were made by two Caucasian women in Scottsboro, Alabama, in 1931. One of the accusers, Ruby Bates, later reversed her testimony and was a witness for the defense, during a retrial. The Supreme Court twice overturned guilty verdicts in the case.

The frame-up and the lynching of Emmett Till and many others falsely accused of sexual assault helped fuel the movement for civil rights.

More recently unionist and Socialist Workers Party member Mark Curtis was beaten by the cops and falsely charged with attempted rape and burglary in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1988. The frame-up took place as Curtis was involved in a fight against the arrest of 17 immigrant workers at the meatpacking plant where he worked. Susan Mnumzana, then secretary for women’s affairs at the African National Congress observer mission at the U.N.; Edna Griffin, a prominent leader of the fight for Black rights in Des Moines; and thousands of others came to his support. An international defense campaign won his parole seven years after his frame-up conviction.

Such frame-ups won’t be the last workers face under capitalist rule, as the bosses are driven to punish those who lead opposition to their efforts to make workers pay for the crisis. In their eyes all workers, especially those who stand up for dignity, solidarity and organize independently of the bosses’ parties and their state are presumed guilty.

The right to a trial, to question your accuser and not be presumed guilty as a result of slurs in the press or by political opponents, is crucial for the working class and all those fighting attacks from the propertied rulers.