OPINION: Fighting back as the Supreme Court attacks us again

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U.S. Supreme Court

As the Supreme Court ended its session last month, there was a national grasp at what had been wrought. Many people were angry but relieved that at least the session was over. On the heels of the burying of Roe vs. Wade last year, progressives were bemoaning that the 6-member conservative majority on the court had its way in terms of turning back the clock on many other matters that they felt were “settled law.” At the tip of the spear, however, were African Americans, who were feeling that they, in particular, were again under attack by the court.

Those who remembered early American history recalled how the Supreme Court had gone out of its way in the Dred Scott decision to say that African Americans were not citizens and “had no rights which a white man was bound to respect.” They recalled how the court had overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and used Plessey vs. Ferguson to legitimize racial segregation and other forms of Jim Crow. They had seen the court chip away at affirmative action programs and turn its back on historically Black colleges as they sought equal funding with historically white colleges.

When in a flurry not seen in recent history, they witnessed the court strike-down an executive order providing for the forgiveness of student loan debts; overturn affirmative action admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina; reject Colorado’s public accommodations law which forbade discrimination by businesses open to the public; and refuse to hear a case from Mississippi which would have restored the right to vote to many convicted felons. Black people could rightly feel that “the Supreme Court is attacking us again.”

Of course, the attacks by the court were not the court attacking in isolation. In this political climate, the court is clearly doing the bidding of America’s right-wing leaders. Donald Trump and his allies had by “hook and crook” recently installed three of the conservative justices on the court. Then, as the decisions were handed down, they cheered because their decade-long dreams were being fulfilled.

The fact that it is the Supreme Court that is doing the attacking places victims in a real quandary because there is no appeal. It is called the “supreme” court because it represents the ultimate of the rule of law under the America’s constitution. Therefore, the victims’ options are (1) impeach the members of the court; (2) add constitutional amendments that go around the court and its decision; (3) expand the court, adding more liberal justices; (4) bide one’s time, electing progressive presidents who will appoint liberal justices as vacancies occur; (5) resign oneself to the court decisions; or (6) urge the president and other leaders to ignore the court decisions.

Of those options, numbers one and two should not be counted-out, but they require a herculean effort in order to be successful. Option six would simply open the door to a disrespect for and the break-down of the rule of law. Option five would be merely surrendering to unjust conditions and “inviting” the court to continue down that road. Option four is almost the same as five, except it holds out the hope for change over the long haul. Option three offers the most immediate hope for change, but does require political victories that would enable progressives to control both houses of Congress while there is a willing president.

While the writer would endorse a combination of options two, three, and four, he would stress the fact that in order to maximize the success of any of them, the Black community must pursue them through organized, informed action. This may be a simple order, but it is a tall order. It requires that the victimized people be motivated to want change, which is the easiest to achieve. There then has to be a massive informational or educational effort to help the total community understand the condition and the avenues for successful action. That campaign should then lead to massive organizing, assuring that all segments of the community have a role to play; assuring that the effort is not to propel any individual to “stardom”; and assuring continuity across the series of actions. Based upon such organizing, concrete actions can then be launched to protect and promote the human and civil rights of the people under discussion. This may not be the only path to success, but it can get us there.

The Supreme Court indeed has attacked us again. This time, however, we can be in a better position than we have ever been before. It is time to say, “never again” to the Supreme Court and its willingness to attack us and our rights. 

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OPINION: Fighting back as the Supreme Court attacks us again

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
July 10, 2023