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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Character witnesses don’t help much

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is expected to

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is expected to testify next week after sex assault allegations against him surfaced last week. Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

My friends, family and colleagues don’t know whether I’ve raped anyone, or tried to.

They don’t know whether I’ve sexually harassed anybody, or abused a child or pursued romantic partners who are legally too young for me.

They might think they know that I’d never do anything so horrible, because I’ve been good to them and in front of them. They’d probably be willing to write a letter attesting to their certainty if I were accused of wrongdoing.

Such testimonials, though, are meaningless. They have no merit when they’re issued for me, or Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh or former President Bill Clinton or Alabama politician Roy Moore or entertainment moguls Harvey Weinstein and Leslie Moonves or anyone else accused of wrongdoing.

I am beloved and respected by certain humans. This does not guarantee I’ve never mistreated other humans. It doesn’t even imply it, really. The absolute most we can know about the people we love and respect is that they’ve been good to us and around us.

Christine Blasey Ford alleges that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the 1980s when she was 15 and he was 17. Ford claims it happened at a house party when Kavanaugh and a classmate at Georgetown Preparatory School, Mark Judge, trapped her in a room and Kavanaugh pinned her down with his body, clapped his hand over her face to stop her screams and tried to pull her clothes off. Ford says both boys were drunk.

The incident ended, Ford says, when Judge jumped on Kavanaugh, all three fell off a bed, the two boys began wrestling, and she escaped.

Both Kavanaugh and Ford may testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and that testimony might help us understand what happened. Even if the two share totally opposing stories, the senators who have to vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and the American people, will be able to listen and judge.

And other searches for evidence might yield information. Other women could come forward to accuse Kavanaugh of assault. Other men could surface accusing Ford of making false, similar claims against them. An in-depth investigation might at least confirm, among other facts, whether the party happened and whether the people involved in the story attended.

But the testimonials from 65 female friends Kavanaugh knew in his high school years who signed a letter saying he never could have done such a thing are not evidence. Neither are the testimonials from 200 women who attended the Holton-Arms School in Maryland over the past 50 years, as Ford did, saying they believe her.

In the case of these letters, the sheer number of signees suggests they support each player politically more than personally. How many of us could quickly gather up 65 members of the opposite sex from our (single-sex) high school years to assure the world we are unfailingly honorable? What value should we grant the belief of 200 women, some of whom have never even met Ford or Kavanaugh, that she is the truthful one?

And how many clergy members and teachers and coaches and stepfathers have been insulated from true accusations of sexual assault by people who loved and respected them, and who wrongly believed them worthy of love and respect?

Too many.

No one in my life can say I’m good and be sure. No one in Kavanaugh or Ford’s lives can say it for sure about them, either.

And that’s particularly true of the politicians and pundits who, without knowing Kavanaugh or Ford, have picked a relative stranger to support emphatically based on the politics of the moment.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.