There shouldn’t be anything particularly surprising about reports that, owing to the alleged victim’s lack of credibility, the criminal case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn ("DSK") is unraveling. Criminal prosecutions unravel all the time for just that reason. The interesting thing is that I, and I’ll bet a lot of other people, are experiencing so sharp a pang of disappointment at hearing the news.
The story of DSK’s guilt is too perfect: a world-class sexual thug, and a card-carrying member of France’s unbearably smug ruling class, being brought low by the anguished testimony of a hotel maid while his friends in high places sputter in incomprehension of our democratic ways. Professor Jacobson reminds me that DSK case bears a more-than-trivial resemblance to the Duke Lacrosse case that had all those gasbags on the Duke faculty taking such unseemly pleasure in seeing a lot of rich white kids being brought low by the testimony of an African-American exotic dancer. In both cases, litigation was expected to bear the weight of an ideological narrative.
There’s a lesson here: our courts are designed to adjudicate concrete “cases and controversies” that arise out of particularized allegations that some individual person or entity has injured some other person or entity. That's a bad recipe for a morality play that dramatizes and vindicates our ideological commitments. We should remember that the next time we rush off to the courts to resolve one of our political disputes.