The statute of limitations for sex-related crimes in Maine reads as follows: “A prosecution for a Class A, Class B or Class C crime involving unlawful sexual contact or gross sexual assault must be commenced within 8 years after it is committed.” In other words, a Class A crime, such as the sexual assault of a minor, could be rendered unpunishable after eight years under Maine state law. Similar sorts of unofficial rules have existed in American society to this day, as a way of normalizing and accepting crude behavior from a time when it was perhaps more acceptable. But in the wake of the #MeToo movement, this unofficial statute of limitations has been, ironically, limited. In the face of accusations of sexual assault from over 35 years ago against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the obvious question to raise is whether one should be held accountable for the actions of his youth, and in a broader sense, for how long should one’s transgressions follow them? In the case of a Supreme Court justice, the answer is certainly more than 35 years.
On Sept. 27, Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, testified under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee which gained a considerable amount of media attention but had little effect upon the confirmation process. In defending his former student, Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar explained the reasons for applying a statute of limitations to combat the unreliability and malleability of memory and the disappearance of physical evidence over time. Dr. Amar also suggests that there is a general desire in the public to give young people a fresh start in the wake of mistakes. If Kavanaugh were on trial, he may indeed not deserve to have his life ruined as a result of an accusation pertaining to multiple decades ago, but he is not on trial. Kavanaugh is effectively interviewing for a position as a Supreme Court justice, and thus should be held to a much greater degree of scrutiny.
While Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault has been routinely diminished by some conservative senators, the #MeToo movement has garnered no such tolerance for those like the comedian Louis C.K. and his case of sexual harassment. During the #MeToo movement’s height in 2017, five female comedians came forward accusing C.K. of exposing himself to them between the mid-90s and 2005. In this case, the passage of time made little difference; after confirming the accusations C.K. lost his television, movie and comedy special deals and was effectively forced to fall off the public map. In his public statement on social media, the comedian noted that the 13 years without incident was a result of what he’d learned “later in life,” and he also recognized that realization as “too late” in the eyes of the public.
The question that arises from these recent examples is how far past actions should follow an individual. It is evident in juxtaposing C.K. with Kavanagh that the perspectives of some conservative senators are not at all in line with that of the court or public opinion. Although this juxtaposition is not entirely equal, there remains an undeniable disparity beneath it between the public’s beliefs and the Senate’s ideals concerning mindset with which to approach accusations of sexual assault well after the fact. The bottom line: one group is supposed to represent the beliefs and values of the other, but not the other way around.