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“Reform for Me, But Not for Thee”: Notes on Kavanaugh, Laxalt, and Double Standards on Criminal Justice

We’ve heard it all before: “Innocent until proven guilty”; “He’s forgiven in the eyes of god”; “He made some mistakes in the past, but he’s on the straight and narrow now”; “He’s a good family man, and those wanton women have nothing on him”; and the list goes on.

Yet in the past month, we’ve generally heard these things being said in defense of straight, white, male Republican politicians like Adam Laxalt and Brett Kavanaugh. Why are some individuals considered deserving of the benefit of doubt while others are just plain doubted?

What happens in Virginia stays in Virginia?
Photo by Andrew Davey

This year, Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) has made “Protect Nevada” his Gubernatorial campaign theme. When he’s not railing about the (nonexistent) threat posed by “sanctuary cities”, he’s echoing other Trump-era Republican talking points on “law and order”.

Last week, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported on Laxalt’s arrest for assaulting a police officer in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1996. On his own past, Laxalt told the paper, “If I could go back and knock some sense into that drunk teenager I would. As a result of this and other incidents with alcohol, I got sober at 18, found God, and put my life back on track.”

Laxalt also said, “I got my life back, and now I want to help others do the same.” While he has assisted high-profile political allies like GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and embattled Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro, he hasn’t always extended the same courtesy to other, less powerful Nevadans. When Governor Brian Sandoval (R) and all the Nevada Supreme Court Justices on the Board of Pardon Commissioners voted to pardon Fred Steese after reviewing evidence showing he was wrongfully convicted of the 1992 murder of Gerald Soules, Laxalt attempted to abstain, then voted against pardoning Steese after Sandoval told Laxalt he couldn’t abstain. And after reports surfaced of Laxalt’s multiple traffic tickets, he continues to support the White House’s “zero tolerance” policy that’s targeting immigrants who’ve had similar run-ins with traffic cops.

While Republicans utilize the language of criminal justice reformers to defend Kavanaugh, they’re dropping the actual cause
Photo provided by the Office of U.S. Senator David Perdue

Judging by his judicial record on the D.C. Court of Appeals, Brett Kavanaugh may slam the door on criminal justice reform that Justice Anthony Kennedy kept cracked open at the U.S. Supreme Court. Funny enough, his allies are now crying, “Innocent until proven guilty!”, as Kavanaugh faces multiple allegations of sexual assault. And as evidence has mounted of Kavanaugh’s embrace of debauchery while in high school and college, his supporters have been calling on the Senate to put aside his “immature high school” behavior and confirm him anyway.

Meanwhile, some of Kavanaugh’s most ardent defenders have proceeded to attack Dr. Christine Blasey Ford for saying he attempted to rape her. Even after President Donald Trump mocked Dr. Blasey’s testimony while campaigning in Mississippi on Tuesday, Senate Republican leaders are still overlooking what may be an incomplete FBI investigation and rushing to have a final confirmation vote for Kavanaugh this weekend. (Queue U.S. Senator Dean Heller [R] and his “hiccup” comments.)

For all the right-wing campaign rhetoric on “victims’ rights”, Kavanaugh and his backers have shown no sympathy for Dr. Blasey, Deborah Ramirez, or Julie Swetnick. Instead, Trump has painted Kavanaugh as the “victim” and declared the #MeToo movement as “very dangerous”. And yet, for all his and other Republicans’ cries of “due process!” and “innocent until proven guilty!” regarding Kavanaugh, they have abandoned any prior willingness to consider criminal justice reform legislation and are instead attacking Democrats as “pro-criminal” on the campaign trail.

Whose “reform” is it, anyway?
Photo by Andrew Davey

A few weeks ago, some Democrats were getting jittery over State Senator Aaron Ford’s (D-Spring Valley) past and how that might affect his campaign for Attorney General. Yet while outside Republican groups continue to attack Ford over his prior arrests, they’ve uttered nary a peep over Laxalt’s rap sheet. While national Republicans are using the rhetoric of reformers to defend Kavanaugh, they’re still using “law and order” language in their campaign ads. And while Trump demands the presumption of innocence for himself and his allies, he has yet to extend the favor outside his circle of friends.

What’s wrong with this picture? Perhaps, it’s this: When it’s a wealthy and/or powerful politician, we see other wealthy and powerful politicians rush to his defense. But when it’s a pardon that could tarnish one’s “tough on crime” campaign theme, or an immigrant facing deportation over traffic tickets, or working-poor communities of color who are harmed the most by mass incarceration policies, it’s easier for these politicians to look the other way.

I’m not expecting a Justice Brett Kavanaugh to even think about any of this, but it would be nice if more of us do.

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