I want Judge Brett Kavanaugh—or someone with the same conservative judicial principles and outlook—to be appointed to the Supreme Court.
But this column is not about that.
“The Charges Against Judge Kavanaugh Should Be Ignored,” read the headline of a Dennis Prager column on Tuesday, in which the conservative radio host made his case that accusations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted a teenage girl 36 years ago should be dismissed.
“Should anyone be held responsible for crimes committed at 17?” Prager asked.
It’s a good question for Reynolds Wintersmith of Illinois, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1994 for selling crack when he was 17. It’s a good question for Ronald Evans of Virginia, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1993 at age 19 for non-violent drug charges. It’s a good question for Rick Wershe Jr. (portrayed in the new movie White Boy Rick), who was given a life sentence when he was 17 for cocaine possession, becoming Michigan’s longest serving juvenile drug offender.
The crimes these men committed as teenagers were all non-violent, and they are not alone. Every year, about 10,000 juveniles are incarcerated for non-violent offenses. Many of these young people never had much of a chance in life to begin with, and even less so after their run-ins with the law. Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, writes:
These kids often lack support networks, come from broken homes or have mental health needs that contribute to their behaviors. Incarceration has not been shown to help overcome this. Instead, thousands of youth are placed in facilities that expose them to violence, disconnect them from their families and communities, and offer few pathways for rehabilitation. Because of their confinement, the chances they will come into contact with the law again are increased.
In other words, their crimes at an immature age—or more accurately, the harsh penalties imposed on them, so many of whom are African-American—often set them back for much of their lives.
Wintersmith was released at age 40 after a pardon by President Obama in 2014, and later became a counselor at a Chicago high school. Evans, now 44, was released in 2016, also due to an Obama commutation. “White Boy Rick” Wershe Jr. was paroled last year after three decades behind bars, and today at age 49, is serving time in a Florida prison for accepting a guilty plea for another non-violent crime that occurred while he was behind bars. (A stolen car ring? It’s complicated.) He is scheduled to be released in Christmas 2020 (many believe Wershe, Jr. received harsh sentencing because he helped bust crooked cops).
Each of those men paid a hefty price for their crimes at an early age.
Regarding Kavanaugh, Prager writes, “No matter how good and moral a life one has led for ten, 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years, it is nullified by a sin committed as teenager.”
“No decent—or rational—society has ever believed such nihilistic nonsense,” he insists.
Prager has a point. For proper moral balance, mistakes made in one’s youth should be weighed against one’s entire life example, so long as the weight of those juvenile errors isn’t too heavy.
But what if those who sinned at a young age end up behind bars for half their lives or more due to a broken justice system and never really have the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves?
It should also be noted that sexual assault, a violent crime—and one Kavanaugh should be considered innocent of committing unless proven otherwise—is certainly worse than the non-violent crime of drug peddling.
Defending the accusation against Kavanaugh, Prager writes, “This is another example of the moral chaos sown by secularism and the left. In any society rooted in Judeo-Christian values, it is understood that people should be morally assessed based on how they behave over the course of their lifetime—early behavior being the least important period in making such an assessment.”
“These religious values taught us that all of us are sinners and, therefore, with the exception of those who have engaged in true evil, we need to be very careful in making moral evaluations of human beings,” Prager explains.
More than a few on social media have contrasted the radio host’s framing of Kavanaugh’s alleged youthful transgressions with his “moral evaluation” of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Prager wrote in 2013:
Rarely, if ever, mentioned the checkered past of Trayvon Martin, who had been caught with stolen jewelry and a burglary tool in his backpack; been suspended from his school three times; defaced a school door with the letters “WTF”; and had marijuana in his system the night of the confrontation with George Zimmerman.
—Fabricated the “iced tea” part of the “iced tea and Skittles” narrative. This is important because the drink he was actually carrying was AriZona Watermelon Fruit Juice Cocktail. According to a popular recipe, that is the favored drink to combine with Skittles and prescription, or Robitussin, cough syrup to produce a potion for getting high known as “lean” and “purple drank” (and known among some as “the poor man’s PCP”).
In other words, if Prager is trying to say of Kavanaugh “Give a drunk kid a break!” he hasn’t applied the same leniency to an unarmed black teenager whose family believed he was gunned down in cold blood (though his shooter, George Zimmerman, was found not guilty of second-degree murder).
Prager says today that even if the Kavanaugh accusations are true, it says little to nothing about the judge’s character. Yet in 2013 he took every opportunity to say that Martin’s transgressions told us all we needed to know about that young man’s character.
At Spectator USA, Daniel McCarthy spells out exactly what Kavanaugh is accused of: “A woman who knew Kavanaugh in his high school days, Christine Blasey Ford, has accused him of drunkenly assaulting her at a party, holding her down, tearing at her clothes, covering her mouth when she attempted to scream—in short, attempted rape.”
Prager has spent many years saying that the non-violent offense of selling drugs is far worse than what drug war critics claim. Yet on Tuesday he wrote a column basically saying attempted rape really isn’t, and even if it was, it should be forgiven regardless due to the passage of time.
If only Reynolds Wintersmith, Ronald Evans, Rick Wershe, Jr. and Trayvon Martin—and countless other young Americans with less means and institutional advantages than what Brett Kavanaugh and Dennis Prager enjoy—could have been shown the same consideration, Christian forgiveness, and mercy.