Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Supreme Court and the Resurrection of Jim Crow South

My grandfather was a Civil Rights foot solider until he took his last breath in 2007. He worked tirelessly to help bring national civil rights leaders to Mississippi during the 50’s and 60’s. In the 70’s and 80’s he urged Civil Right organizations not to seek corporate funding because it would water down their mission. And in 90’s and until he became ill in 2006, he taught the fundamentals of voting and the importance of understanding public issues that affect minority rights, the poor, and the underserved.

I was spoon fed his activism. My grandfather, my first hero in life, was principled, practical and proud. He took tremendous pride in introducing me to many unsung leaders whose names are not in history books but who made historical contributions that addressed living in the Jim Crow South.

Through my grandfather, I met many Mississippi Jews who lived in the Delta. The Delta Jews were a group of Jewish business owners who helped my grandfather fund Civil Right activities throughout the late 50’s and 60’s. The Delta Jews owned local businesses in the Greenville area and down Hwy 61. They were also land owners and leased their properties to larger corporations. I was nine years old when I had my first encounter with someone who owned their own business other than a family member while I was tagging along with my grandfather doing a get out to vote drive in 1975. I met a Jewish family who owned the town bank. I was smitten as I eavesdropped while the banker gave my grandfather advice one afternoon.


My grandfather listened quietly as  his old Jewish friend warn him that marching and boycotting white owned businesses to get White folks to do right had limitations. The Delta Jews believed that keeping an eye on the court system was the best way to defeat Jim Crow and the lawyers who drafted the Jim Crow laws for the White Supremacists. “It takes a good lawyer to outsmart a bad law,” he said to my grandfather. He encouraged my grandfather that our community needed more lawyers willing “to argue a case before the highest court in the land if needed” to address racism. He already knew what I learned later in life; Jim Crows laws were systemic and there would always be another law created by evil men who would have one leg up because the legal system was ran by the same group who instituted the laws that keep minorities from getting ahead. 

That conversation transformed my grandfather on he challenged injustices. It also began his years of watching who sat on the judicial benches and their relationships with elected officials. My grandfather believed strongly the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) would soon become the last option the little folks had against the unjust laws that were often passed at the local and state level that were unlawful and immoral in the Jim Crow South.

Now, let us looked at the role of the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has two fundamental functions. On the one hand, it must interpret and expound all congressional enactments brought before it in proper cases; in this respect its role parallels that of the state courts of final resort in making the decisive interpretation of state law. On the other hand, the Supreme Court has power (superseding that of all other courts) to examine federal and state statutes and executive actions to determine whether they conform to the U.S. Constitution. When the court rules against the constitutionality of a statute or an executive action, its decision can be overcome only if the Constitution is amended or if the court later overrules itself or modifies its previous opinion. The decisions are not confined to the specific cases, but rather are intended to guide legislatures and executive authority; thereby they mold the development of law. Thus, in the U.S. governmental system the Supreme Court potentially wields the highest power.

Since 2009, the SCOTUS has become a court that is becoming more and more engaged in politics than being guides to help us interpret the Constitution. Black and Brown folks in particular should be alarmed at the number of cases that the SCOTUS has ruled against that were instituted to protect minority rights. At a time when racists are once again proud of their racism, it has been open season on laws that were once upheld by the SCOTUS.

On June 25, 2013, the SCOTUS struck down the Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The decision in Shelby County v. Holder effectively ended the use of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which requires any changes to voting rules in covered states and jurisdictions to be approved by the U.S. Justice Department before they can go into effect.

States like Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee where some residents have longed for the Old South to rise again, no longer have to get preclearance when they make changes in jurisdictions. Although the SCOTUS has confidence that our country has changed dramatically since the 60’s regarding discriminatory practices, we are seeing more and more state laws that are limiting times and locations to vote while restricting the types of identification that can be used to vote. That is very Jim Crowish.

On April 22, 2014, the SCOTUS upheld the ban on Affirmative Action for college admissions. In 2006, Michigan voters decided to bar public colleges from considering race in admissions and to prohibit officials from taking race into account in hiring and contracting. The SCOTUS decide 6-2 that a country that practiced denying admittance to colleges based on race and practiced discrimination in hiring and minority contracting for centuries, now say it is okay to pick up where everyone left off. When folks say they want their country back, believe them. They are using the SCOTUS to do it.

In 2010,the SCOTUS ruled 5-4 that corporations were people in Citizen United vs. FCC. Living and breathing people! When Black and Brown folks should have been alarmed, they passively thought the case was about big money funding elections and not a Civil Rights issue. Citizen United vs. FCC was very much a Civil Rights issue as busing and affirmation action were. Black and Brown folks are not likely to spend millions to get someone elected but those corporation will spend billions during an election cycle to get local, state, and federal people who will do their bidding once elected. Who is elected determines what laws are brought fourth that will affect everything from the fairness of a school’s budget to what time the polls will close. We know first hand how an underfunded school system can affect a community for generations and we have come from an era where making it difficult to vote has been practiced. Both thrived well in Jim Crow South.

With theHobby Lobby ruling from two week ago, the SCOTUS is showing us once again they are dogged determined to erode steady legal Civil Rights gains. If you do not think Hobby Lobby issue was closely tied to Civil Rights, you are wrong. When majority women are up arms about an issue, Black folks better get on board, quickly. If they got issues with laws you know community of color got major problems coming to their neighborhoods real soon. 

People of color can no longer sit on the sideline and wait to be informed about issues. By the time the community is informed, it has been devoured. Communities of color must be willing to be sharp as a double edge sword on all the issues, especially, the ones that are before THIS SCOTUS.

The SCOTUS has Justices who are actively engaged in politics outside of the court and are not afraid that we know it. Thinking the SCOTUS will be fair and balance should not be assumed. When the Justices became headliners at close door political fundraiser after the election of 2008, we lost the objectivity of the court. At the same time, we started losing one civil right gain after another. Wake up folks! Folks really are taking our country back...and backwards. 

Photo Credit: Supreme Court, Mississippi Library Archives

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