Tag Archives: Supreme Court

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Cutting The Ties That Blind

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Image via The Guardian.

By Guest Contributor Thomas L. Mariadason

The iconography of blind justice is ubiquitous. Expressionless Greco-Roman goddesses stridently clutching scales adorn courtrooms all across our country. At this point, the imagery is hardly eye-catching, but its familiarity helps numb our doubts about the nature of judicial objectivity. Sightlessness, after all, is the supreme analogue of impartiality.

One small catch: the metaphor of blindness—an ableist trope that frequently undermines itself —also suggests the inability to perceive the realities before us.

In a heavyweight dissent to the flyweight opinion in Schuette v. BAMN, Justice Sonia Sotomayor knocked the shut-eyed obliviousness out of her Supreme Court benchmates, exhorting them “to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”

I’m with Kweli on this one: “Right about now I’m feeling very grateful we have a Puerto Rican from the Bronx on the Supreme Court.”
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Late Update: Catch Kendra James On Al-Jazeera Today!

Just wanted to give everybody a heads-up: Our own Kendra James will be appearing on Al-Jazeera’s The Stream at 3:25 p.m. EST to discuss affirmative action policies in the U.S. in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to send Fisher v. University of Texas back to an appeals court. She’ll be joined in the panel discussion by Ari Berman from The Nation, Jerome Hudson from the National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives, Michigan Daily‘s Yash Bhutada and libertarian blogger Kristin Tate.

Added benefit for online viewers: Not only do you get 5 extra minutes at the start, but you can participate in an additional 10 minute post-show. Congrats, Kendra!

Of Scalps and Savages: How Colonial Language Enforces Discrimination against Indigenous Peoples

By Guest Contributor Ruth Hopkins, cross-posted from Last Real Indians

“The Death of Jane McCrea” by John Vanderlyn (1804)

Before I head out the door, I watch Morning Joe on MSNBC.  It’s part of my workday routine.  This morning they were talking about the latest issue of the New Republic and its lead story entitled, “How the NRA is Going Down: This is How the NRA Ends.”  Since the Newtown tragedy, Republican Joe Scarborough, the show’s host, is openly advocating for gun control. Still, Joe disagreed with the assertion that the NRA’s power and influence is eroding, especially in the wake of recently defeated gun control legislation.

In the midst of this exchange, John Heilemann, an author, journalist and political analyst who frequents Morning Joe (and who occasionally says things that make sense to me), said, “But who’s the SCALP?” John paraphrased this statement by saying, “who’s gonna pay the price for having voted the wrong way?” In other words, John was questioning whether any of the congressmen who voted against the recent legislation in question will be defeated next election specifically because they voted against gun control, i.e. who will be the “scalp” (defined in the dictionary as a “trophy of victory”) that gun control proponents win.

Mr. Heilemann made a perfectly rational argument. Unfortunately his archaic phraseology took me right out of the conversation. The moment he said, “Who’s the SCALP?” my mind immediately raced to the fact that my ancestors (the Dakota people) were hunted down and murdered in their Minnesota homelands in the late 1800s, when then-Governor Alexander Ramsey placed a $200 bounty on their scalps. Yes, you read that correctly. It was once government policy to encourage civilians to hunt down American Indian men, women and children (human beings), kill them, and rip the flesh from their skulls. Anyone who did so was rewarded handsomely for it.
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Quoted: Sports Illustrated On Jackie Robinson’s Rookie Season, 65 Years Later

Courtesy: halloffamememorabilia.com

As April 15, 1947, neared and the Dodgers prepared to play the Boston Braves in the season opener at Ebbets Field, the Brooklyn clubhouse was not exactly harmonious about Robinson’s arrival. Southerners Dixie Walker, Eddie Stanky and Bobby Bragan drew up a petition saying they preferred being traded to playing with a black teammate.[Branch] Rickey and manager Leo Durocher silenced the rebels, with Durocher vowing Robinson would “make them all rich.” Another Southerner, shortstop Pee Wee Reese, also supported Robinson

Statistically, Robinson’s debut was forgettable. He was 0-for-3 with a run scored while recording 11 putouts at first base. But a new age had dawned before 26,623 fans and the Pittsburgh Courier wrote, “History was made here Tuesday.”

Although Robinson received threats, hate mail and racist comments from opposing dugouts, and teams constantly threw at his head and tried to spike him on the bases, baseball fans of all races were enthralled. All seven of the other National League teams drew their largest crowds of 1947 when Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers were in town, including a National League high of 52,355 at the Polo Grounds on April 19. Somehow Wrigley Field, with a baseball capacity of less than 40,000, squeezed in 46,572 fans for the Dodgers’ first visit to Chicago on May 18.

Robinson was making more than just the Dodgers rich.

He finished with a .297 batting average and led the National League in stolen bases. He was named the first Rookie of the Year, and the Dodgers won the pennant before falling to the New York Yankees in a dramatic seven-game World Series.

That was a watershed year for baseball. The World Series was televised for the first time and the NCAA conducted its first College World Series. But Robinson’s breaking the color line, one year before the U.S. military integrated and seven years before the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools, was the sport’s biggest story.
- From “Jackie Robinson’s debut changed the game–and the nation,” by Richard Rothschild

Gordon Hirabayashi, 1918-2012

By Guest Contributor Phil Yu, cross-posted from Angry Asian Man

Received word through social media that civil rights hero Gordon Hirabayashi, best known for being one of the few people to openly defy the government’s unconstitutional internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, has died. He was 93.

Hirabayashi was arrested, convicted and imprisoned, and eventually appealed his case to the Supreme Court (Hirabayashi vs. United States) — the first challenge to Executive Order 9066. The Court ruled against him, 9-0. However, his wartime convictions were successfully overturned forty years later.
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Sprinkle Some Brown on It

by Guest Contributor G.D., originally published at TAPPED and PostBourgie

Thurgood Marshall

Along with his fellow Republicans, Jeff Sessions spent much of the first day of Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings weirdly taking aim at the storied judicial career ofThurgood Marshall. Why? Because Marshall was an enemy of originalists, and the senators wanted to portray Kagan, who clerked for him, as cut from the same ideological cloth.

Later in the day, though, Sessions compared the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which granted corporations the right to make unlimited political donations, toBrown v. Board of Education, the landmark civil-rights case that declared de jure racial segregation unconstitutional. In the Citizen’s United case, he said, the court went back to the principles of the Constitution to apply equal protection of the laws.

“Is it treating people equally to say you can go to this school because of the color of your skin and you can’t?” Sessions asked rhetorically. “We’ve now honestly concluded and fairly concluded that it violates the equal protection clause.”

How is that like Citizens United? “I think this Court, when they said ‘Wait a minute! If you’re talking about a precedent that says the government can deny the right to publish pamphlets, then we’ve got get rid of this one outlier case Austin — 100 years of precedent — and go back to what the Constitution [says].’ I don’t think that’s activism.”

Buried in this tortured analogy is a pretty illustrative example of how amorphous originalism actually is. The decision in Brown, arguably the most famous case taken on by the legendarily activist Warren Court, was (and still is) decried by many conservatives as judicial overreach. Yet as Sherilyn Ifill points outChief Justice Roberts actually invoked Brown in the Citizens United ruling precisely because it eschewed precedent; “if the court never departed from precedent, ‘segregation would be legal.’”

Because Brown is one of those moments that affirms the goodness of American character, and because its fundamental rightness is taken as a given now (in a way that certainly was not true when it was decided), it’s often brought up this way by conservatives, as a cover for expansive readings of the Constitution that bring about results favorable to their ends.

So they want to give corporations new ways to involve themselves in the political process but are bound by campaign finance laws from doing so? No worries! Just sprinkle some Brown on it.

Questions Remain Around Elena Kagan and Race

by Latoya Peterson

Over the last few days, I’ve been watching with interest the discussions around Elena Kagan and race.

I need to revisit some of my Sotomayor coverage, but I am wondering about the concept of a “thin” resume – comparatively speaking, it would appear that Kagan has far less of a legal paper trail than Sotomayor, yet the idea that she is inherently unqualified seems to be from a quiet corner of the punditry, and not the echoing refrain it became for Sotomayor. But that’s neither here nor there.

The real controversy brewing is over Kagan’s record on race. The first time we heard about Kagan in the racial blogosphere was around the time of the Stephanie Grace scandal, Kagan’s name came up as the Harvard Law School Dean that did not take allegations of racism seriously. Diane Lucas, the Harvard law grad who wrote a guest post for Feministe called “The Racist Breeding Grounds of Harvard Law School” was also quoted in an article about Kagan’s track record with students. According to Lucas:

[...]Lucas says when she and other students asked Kagan to issue a formal apology, set up diversity training and hire a diversity director [after a student roast which parodied actual students with racist and sexist stereotypes] , Kagan refused. Kagan defended the parody as students’ freedom of speech. From that, Lucas concluded that Kagan shirked her responsibility to make Harvard Law School a more racially sensitive place.

As more details emerge about Kagan, it was revealed that her hiring record also reflects a certain type of trend. The New York Times explains:

In the nearly six years that Ms. Kagan was dean, from 2003 to 2009, she hired a total of 43 permanent, full-time faculty members, 32 of whom were tenured and tenured-track. Of those, 25 were white men, 6 were white women and one was an Asian-American woman. Of the other 11, 6 were white men, 2 were women and 3 were minority men (2 black and one Indian), according to a law school official.

Law school officials said the numbers did not reflect the whole story because offers were made to other minority and women scholars; some were declined and some still open. But others said the record spoke for itself.

“Kagan’s performance as dean at Harvard raises doubts about her commitment to equality for traditionally disadvantaged groups,” Guy-Uriel Charles, a black law professor at Duke, wrote last month in an oft-cited post.

After Kagan was selected as Obama’s next nominee, both defenders and detractors came out of the woodwork, making powerful cases based on Kagan’s record. Continue reading