Lewis made the comments on “Face to Face,” a public affairs television program he co-hosted in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Minnesota, in response to what was then a recent Supreme Court case, Davis v. Monroe County School Board.
CNN’s KFile also reviewed other episodes of Face to Face from this time period in which Lewis also argued against the Sixth Amendment’s right to legal counsel, which he said was “already stretched” and that court-appointed attorneys went beyond the scope of the Sixth Amendment.
In response to a comment request from CNN, Christine Snell, Lewis’ communications director, criticized CNN and KFile, but did not respond to the substance of Lewis’ comments.
In the June 1999 episode of “Face to Face” discussing the case, Lewis frequently bemoaned the court’s ruling, which found that a school can be sued by a student, and forced to pay damages, if it failed to stop sexual harassment committed by other students.
Lewis also dismissed allegations of sexual harassment in schools as innocent situations of “Billy” chasing “Susie,” two fictional stand-ins for elementary school boys and girls.
“This is such a boon to lawyers everywhere, they can sue school districts for not preventing Billy from teasing Susie,” Lewis said.
Lewis brought up the hypothetical examples of the nonexistent Billy and Susie five times in the half-hour episode to downplay sexual harassment in schools, and said that pursuing hypothetical sexual harassment cases distracted schools from preventing violence.
“While school districts are making certain that say, you know, romantic notes aren’t exchanged, or Billy isn’t harassing Susie, or all these things — that takes time,” Lewis said. “And some of us think that schools ought to be focused on violence perhaps in their hallways, instead of what some people deem to be sexual harassment.”
Lewis also complained about the increase in sexual harassment lawsuits, though not because he thought sexual harassment was rampant, but rather because he thought many were frivolous.
“Sexual harassment litigation has exploded in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, according to the EEOC, we’ve gone from 6,127 cases in 1990—to 14,420, just by 1994—we doubled in less than five years,” Lewis said to Wright Walling, an attorney and one of the show’s guests that episode
“You’re making an assumption that more lawsuits are a bad thing, and — ” Walling said.
“Yes, absolutely,” Lewis interrupted.
“The fact of the matter is that when you’re protecting the rights of, in this case, a 5th grader, of children, that some of these who should be looked at, and if that takes going to court to make the school districts, in fact, pay attention to what they should be doing to protect our children, then I don’t think—” said Walling.
“I agree with Judge Hand,” Lewis interrupted again, citing 20th century federal judge Learned Hand. “He said that more lawsuits were a bad thing and he was right then as he is today.”
Right to counsel
The court held in Texas v. Cobb that the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel is “offense-specific” and that a suspect in a criminal investigation may not have an attorney present for questioning in regards to a related crime if he already had access to a lawyer.
Lewis argued that the Sixth Amendment’s right to an attorney “has been tortured a bit over the years. If you really wanna look at the strict construction of the amendment, it says people have the right to counsel.”
Lewis added, “Somehow, we also have not only the right to counsel, we have the right for somebody else to pay for it and the right for it to be ever-present, omnipresent. I’m not saying [Texas v. Cobb’s] a good ruling. I’m just saying that we have already stretched the amendment.”