Due Process

Whether It's John Conyers or Bad Cops, Due Process Isn't Meant to Protect Government Officials

Due process is supposed to protect you from government abuse, not protect government abuse.



House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is an "icon" who is "entitled to due process" before facing consequences over accusations by multiple female staffers of sexual misconduct.

Conyers is currently the subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation stemming from revelations that he settled a sexual harassment claim with taxpayer money and other the sexual misconduct allegations.

Pelosi's appeal to due process mirrors the argument made by police brutality apologists, who insist that bad police officers cannot face any consequences absent a criminal conviction and/or an administrative review process where they have ample opportunity to appeal.

Pelosi confuses (deliberately or not) the right to due process before government with government's ability to manage personnel and hold its own officials and representatives accountable.

Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on various settlements involving members of the House, information that is concealed from the public and even from House leadership. Such secrecy has nothing to do with due process.

Like the secrecy surrounding many of the problems with policing, it only reinforces the notion that membership in the House is a privilege that grants access to taxpayer money and the other powers of government.

This is not Conyers' first House Ethics Committee investigation. He has previously been accused by staffers of forcing them to babysit his children and to participate in various political campaigns.

The committee decided that a public statement from them and an "agreement by Representative Conyers to take a number of additional, significant steps to ensure that his office complies with all rules and standards regarding campaign and personal work by congressional staff" sufficed to close the matter.

It's hard to believe any significant steps were taken given Conyers' continued treatment of staffers as his own personal property.

What's remarkable about the Conyers situation and the defense of him by Democratic colleagues is just how low the stakes are. Conyers represents a heavily Democratic district, and unlike for Senate seats, governors don't appoint replacements for the House. The fact that Michigan has a Republican governor is irrelevant. The margin of the majority in the House is wider than the Senate. Conyers is 88—there's little he can do that a younger person in his seat couldn't. In a body of 435 members no single member is indispensable.

The hypocrisy is stunning even for national politics. Democrats have spent several years insisting there was a war on women being waged by Republicans as well as pushing private organizations, from contractors to universities, to impose stricter standards on even the appearance of sexual impropriety.

Democrats have also argued consistently that colleges should apply lower standards of proof to discipline (and expel) students accused of sexual misconduct, yet worked to preserve a system where members of Congress had access to taxpayer money to arrive at settlements that permit them to avoid responsibility for misconduct of their own.

Were Conyers a college student, he would have much less protection than he has as one of the most powerful men in Washington. Given the intersection of power dynamics and sexual misconduct, from DC to Hollywood, that's not the way it should be.

But it's also not surprising. Powerful people claiming to speak for the powerless are more than willing to stomp on them to protect one another.