The court of public opinion is different from a court of law, but it too is an important court. Wouldn’t anyone rather be convicted in a court of law of drunken driving—also a serious crime—than convicted in the court of public opinion of being a serial sex predator? Many would even rather go to prison for a year on drunken driving charges than be labeled a sexual predator for life. In a nation dedicated to fairness and due process, explicit constitutional rights often serve as a metaphor and guide in the kind of basic fairness we demand even in nonlegal proceedings. That model should operate here as well.

Had Judge Kavanaugh been rejected on ideological or professional grounds before these sordid accusations were leveled, he could go back to his life, as Robert Bork did. But if the Senate fails to confirm him now, his life will never be the same.

Some would argue that if Judge Kavanaugh is now confirmed in the face of these serious accusations, it will have an equally damaging effect on the life, reputation and credibility of his accusers. That is false. Even if he is confirmed, those accusers will be treated as heroes by the many people who believe them. It will not have close to the impact on them that a failure to be confirmed will have on Judge Kavanaugh. The best evidence of that is Anita Hill, who has gone on to a distinguished career as an academic, writer, commentator and feminist. The stakes are simply not comparable.