When Gov. Andrew Cuomo first faced allegations of sexual harassment, many New York politicians were ready to impeach him. But other officials, and many voters, insisted they could not judge before a thorough and official investigation. Mr. Cuomo deserved due process.
That was a reasonable position, at least for the allegations that Mr. Cuomo did not really dispute. But now Mr. Cuomo has received the process that was his due: Independent lawyers deputized by the state attorney general’s office conducted a full investigation while Mr. Cuomo remained in office. On Tuesday, they released a thorough report. Its findings are devastating: Mr. Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, and he and his aides cultivated an office culture that enabled those abuses.
Andrew Cuomo must go. If he won’t resign, New York State legislators must impeach him and remove him from office. A man who cannot be trusted alone in a room with an employee cannot be trusted to govern New York.
The conduct laid out in painful detail in the attorney general’s report evinces not just a casual approach to workplace boundaries — Mr. Cuomo’s earlier defense — but a pattern of malicious disregard for his employees’ humanity, their existence as anything more than sex objects. In the course of physically and verbally harassing one state trooper, the investigators found, he told her he needed a girlfriend who “can handle pain.” The report lays out multiple abuses that likely violate federal and state law.
So the question for New York legislators is this: Now that the allegations have been vetted — now that Mr. Cuomo has received the process he was due — are they ready to judge his fitness for office? Or were their procedural objections always a pretext to ensure the governor’s impunity?
On that, the jury is still out. Carl Heastie, the speaker of the Assembly and a fellow Democrat, said in July that he would not impeach the governor based on the attorney general’s report alone — no matter what it found. He instead set up an impossible standard, requiring multiple investigations into the same conduct. But on Tuesday, Mr. Heastie said “it is abundantly clear to me that the governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office.” Mr. Heastie pledged that the Assembly would “move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible.” That seems like a promising sign. But it leaves open the possibility that — just as he threatened earlier — the speaker may use the Assembly’s parallel investigation, which started in March, to stall proceedings. We’ll soon know whether, for Mr. Heastie, due process for Mr. Cuomo means freedom from consequence.
This is a dynamic I run into a lot in my work representing victims of sexual harassment. Of course, people accused of sexual harassment, just like people accused of anything else, deserve to be treated fairly. Whether accused at work, at school or in a courtroom, all people should be provided the basics of due process: notice of the allegation; a chance to tell their side of the story; judgment by impartial decision makers. Fair investigations help everyone, victims and the accused alike.
But some bad actors co-opt the rhetoric of “due process” to advance their true agenda: tolerance for sexual harassment, and impunity for those who commit it. In a recent appeal I won, a large school district argued that the expectation that it investigate every allegation of sexual harassment lodged by students posed a threat to their classmates’ due process rights — even though, of course, a responsibility to investigate does not mean a responsibility to punish.
Or take the allegations against then-judge Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Republicans decried the mere levying of accusations as a witch hunt, even as they stood in the way of any meaningful process to vet those claims. The film producer Harvey Weinstein mourned the death of due process when some comedians had the audacity to crack jokes about his abuses before his criminal conviction. A group of male students sued the University of Oregon for punishing them for sexual assault without a hearing, alleging violations of due process. But the school had offered them exactly such a hearing, and the accused students, advised by their legal counsel, had declined the opportunity. It appeared that their fundamental objection was to getting in trouble.
None of this is to say that calls for “due process” are always made in bad faith. If the Legislature impeaches Mr. Cuomo swiftly, New York’s approach could serve as a model for others. Allegations about high-profile officials are some of the trickiest to resolve, since the whole enterprise is, inevitably, politicized. It would be easy for someone who followed the sexual harassment accusations against Scott Stringer, a candidate for New York mayor in the recent Democratic primary election, to lose hope in the very possibility of a fair investigation in circumstances like these.
But New York could provide reason for optimism. Here, the state refused to pre-judge, investigated thoroughly, substantiated the allegations and now can dole out the appropriate consequence. That’s due process done well, even if Mr. Cuomo and his defenders don’t like the result.
Alexandra Brodsky is a civil rights lawyer and the author of the forthcoming book “Sexual Justice: Supporting Victims, Ensuring Due Process, and Resisting the Conservative Backlash.” She is a co-founder and former co-director of Know Your IX, an organization combating gender violence in schools.
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