Brett Kavanaugh is no Atticus Finch


Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch

Jamelle Bouie recently pointed to the ill-logic of a comparison being made by some: that between Brett Kavanaugh and Atticus Finch.

For those not au fait with Finch, he never lived except in Harper Lee’s imagination. In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Finch is the court-appointed lawyer for Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a young white woman, Mayella Ewell, in a small Alabama town in the 1930s.

Finch is criticised – even ostracised – by his friends and neighbours for taking on the job. As Bouie writes: “Atticus, too, stands against the weight of public opinion, even stopping a mob of men eager to dispense vigilante justice. During the trial, Atticus proves the accusers are lying, with Ewell’s father the likely culprit. Despite this, a jury convicts Robinson, who is shot and killed while trying to escape prison.”

There stands  the Republican case for comparing Mr Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, to Finch. As ‘National Review’ editor Rich Lowry puts it: “Atticus Finch didn’t #BelieveAllWomen. He didn’t take an accusation at face value. He defended an alleged rapist, vigorously and unremittingly, making use of every opportunity provided to him by the norms of the Anglo-American system of justice”.

The column prompted Republican senator John Cornyn to say: “We all remember that Atticus Finch was a lawyer who did not believe that a mere accusation was synonymous with guilt. He represented an unpopular person who many people presumed was guilty of a heinous crime because of his race, and his race alone. We could learn from Atticus Finch now, during this time when there has been such a vicious and unrelenting attack on the integrity and good name of this nominee.”

So far, so compelling. Just as Finch fought injustice, so must Mr Kavanaugh. But is Mr Kavanaugh, really America’s real-life Atticus Finch?

Mr Kavanaugh is said by his classmates to have lied under oath (about his behaviour and alcohol consumption while in school and college). As Bouie points out, Mr Kavanaugh “does not belong to a disfavoured group. He is not disadvantaged by class or burdened with the weight of caste. He has lived a life of wealth and privilege, moving in and between elite spaces with little apparent friction. For five years he worked with the president of the United States. For 12 years he’s been one of the most powerful judges in the country.”

The second point Bouie makes is equally valid: “Atticus Finch risked everything defending Tom Robinson; Kavanaugh’s defenders risk nothing.”

Third, and perhaps most important, there is a massive gap between accusations against Kavanaugh and Atticus Finch’s predicament – defending a black man accused of raping a white woman.

As Bouie says: “During the Jim Crow era, allegations of rape and sexual assault against black men weren’t good-faith efforts to uncover abuse against women. They were pretexts for mob violence and brutal, public executions, meant to punish black Americans for stepping outside the boundaries set by white society.”

Kavanaugh is no Atticus Finch.