Yesterday Politico reported on the latest attack against Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of eduction. DeVos and her husband donated $10,000 to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonpartisan organization that defends free speech, religious liberty, and due process on college campuses.
Some people, however, don’t much care for due process — especially when young men are accused of serious offenses like rape or sexual assault. FIRE opposes lawless Obama administration guidelines that mandate low burdens of proof for campus sexual-assault tribunals without also mandating proper due-process protections for the accused. In other words, it opposes the amateurish kangaroo courts that pass for “campus justice” in the age of Obama. Others, however, defend the witch hunts:
The donations are “a red flag,” said Lisa Maatz, the top policy adviser at the American Association of University Women, which advocates for strict enforcement of Title IX, the federal law that governs sex discrimination, harassment and sexual assault on college campuses. “In the absence of an actual record . . . I think these kinds of donations take on even greater importance, because we have to rely on her contributions to inform us on particular issues.”
And here’s an actual U.S. senator displaying his own disregard for the Constitution:
“Ms. DeVos must fully explain whether she supports the radical view that it should be more difficult for campus sexual assault victims to receive justice,” said Sen. Bob Casey, (D-Pa.), a member of the HELP Committee.
There’s nothing radical about due process. Here are the basic protections FIRE seeks to preserve:
“The basic protections for which FIRE argues — the right to the active participation of counsel; the right to see the evidence in one’s case and to meaningfully question witnesses; and the right to an impartial tribunal, among others — benefit all parties and do not impede the pursuit of justice,” the group said. “Outside of the campus context, nobody would argue that reducing due process protections, including the burden of proof, is necessary to secure a just outcome.”
I’d ask the American Association of University Women and Senator Casey: Which of these rights do they think should be denied Americans accused of serious offenses? The true radicals are those who believe that college women get special protections available to no other group of women in the United States — the right to hearings where the deck is stacked against the accused, and the “judges” are steeped in the #BelieveAllWomen nonsense of radical campus feminism. These same radicals believe that the Department of Education can mandate this justice system without bothering to pass a new law or even go through notice-and-comment rulemaking.
Additionally, it’s far from clear that DeVos gave to FIRE because of its advocacy for due process. The group is also the unquestioned leader in defending free speech on campus and has been a trailblazer in defending religious freedom at colleges and universities. Perhaps DeVos liked the fact that FIRE believes universities shouldn’t toss Christian groups from campus simply because Christian groups want Christian leadership. Perhaps she liked the fact that FIRE believes free speech on campus shouldn’t be confined to tiny free-speech “zones.” Or perhaps she liked the fact that FIRE is one of the last truly nonpartisan organizations left in the United States.
Before I joined the Army Reserve and deployed to Iraq, I was FIRE’s president. During my time there, we not only defended civil liberties without regard to the viewpoint or ideology of the student or professor, we employed one of the few truly diverse staffs in all of American advocacy. It was a beautiful thing to see our young Christian/Jewish/Muslim/atheist, black/white/Asian, conservative/liberal/libertarian staff engage all cases with equal zeal. I know for a fact that this exact nonpartisan advocacy preceded my time at FIRE and has continued under FIRE’s current president, Greg Lukianoff (the greatest thing I ever did for FIRE was clear out so Greg could run the place). It’s part of FIRE’s DNA, and it represents the legacy of its founders, Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate.
Betsy DeVos’s support for FIRE is to her credit and demonstrates her commitment to civil liberties for all. Her critics on this point demonstrate only their commitment to a punitive, radical ideology that reserves civil liberties for some. Americans should be reassured, not dismayed, by DeVos’s support for our most fundamental constitutional rights.