Seems like an easy answer under our Constitution and hundreds of years of criminal justice jurisprudence. In fact, there’s a valid sentiment that those accused of the worst crimes, the most heinous and repulsive acts, are most in need of a good defense. If nothing else—and often there is nothing else—it protects an accused citizen from the angry mob. The type of angry mobs that lynched and shot and beat so many who were both rightly and wrongly accused over our history.
But some students at Harvard and maybe even the school itself appear not to believe in this most basic of rights.
Professor Ronald Sullivan joined Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s legal defense team earlier this year, representing Weinstein on multiple charges of sexual assault. He apparently is a defendant who does not deserve a lawyer, judging by the reaction of vocal students at Harvard who have protested and called for Sullivan to resign his faculty dean position, according to the New York Times.
“Do you really want to one day accept your diploma from someone who for whatever reason, professional or personal, believes it is O.K. to defend such a prominent figure at the center of the #MeToo movement?” one student wrote in a petition.
And the dean of Harvard College said in February that the college would conduct a “climate review” of how some students view Sullivan’s choice to represent Weinstein. Also, that they would “take action as appropriate.”
Heather MacDonald, writing an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, had a clear perspective on the topic.
“The fact of the climate review is bad enough. It validates the idea that there is something to investigate in Mr. Sullivan’s decision to represent an unpopular client. And the administration’s rhetoric smacks of a re-education camp.” She lamented that six Harvard dorms held “listening sessions” attended by emissaries from the university’s Office for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. The office’s website had urged traumatized students to seek mental health services, according to MacDonald.
For his part, Sullivan has written that he hopes this can be a “teachable moment” at Harvard about basic due process rights. One can only hope that the protesters are willing to be taught.