by Dr. Faye Williams
I’ve been left to wonder which hurts more. Does it hurt more to have a disappointment occur without expectation or does it hurt more to be able to anticipate a disappointment and see it materialize? I’ve come to the realization that when it relates to the U.S. Justice System, a disavowal of patterns and practices that would have served to protect the integrity of the process and broadly protect the rights of citizenship hurts whether anticipated or not.
My great disappointment in the Justice System came on June 25, 2013, in the Shelby County v. Holder decision. The Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which invalidated the “Pre-clearance” requirements of Section 5. Progressive observers predicted a retrenchment of extra-legal policies that served to suppress the voting rights of non-whites who are likely pro-Democratic voters. Events since that decision have proven the progressive prediction correct. The pre-1965 experience of a segment of society rendered powerless because of an inability to vote looms large as a future possibility, as well.
Laws passed in a significant number of states since 2013 have served to restrict voting rights and have, when contested, earned the condemnation of judges who’ve seen through the subterfuge and determined that these laws are no more than vehicles targeting the voting rights of minorities. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell’s adamant refusal to perform his constitutionally mandated responsibilities of conducting the confirmation process of Judge Merrick Garland signaled a commitment by Republicans to obliterate the changes to social justice achieved in the past 50 years.
My next disappointment in the Justice System came on February 9, 2017 when Jefferson B. Sessions assumed the office of Attorney General of the U.S. Although initially giving a broadly-general statement of understanding his job of assuring justice under-the-law to all citizens, his subsequent actions seem more like rationalizations of the White Citizens’ Council. Sessions’ most recent and egregious act is his refusal to implement already-established consent decrees with police departments that’ve demonstrated disparate enforcement of the law (i.e. Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago). In the face of overwhelming evidence and, in some cases, cooperation of the offending police department, Sessions has chosen to overlook the discriminatory patterns and practices in training and enforcement and excuse them to the isolated actions of individual officers.
Somewhere along the way, Sessions has missed the fact that no individual or institution is above the law. These isolated actions he’s willing to explain away have immeasurable impact on individuals and our communities that reach far beyond an isolated event.
My most recent and greatest disappointment in the Justice System came on April 10, 2017, with Neil Gorsuch taking the oath as the newest Supreme Court Justice. The addition of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court appears to be little more than the appointment of a Scalia-on-steroids Justice who offers little hope of justice for any except the moneyed and well-aligned.
The Gorsuch confirmation threatens to again send women to back-alleys for abortions. It threatens to solidify control of corporate interests over the lives of ordinary citizens, including environmental issues, healthcare and workers’ rights. It threatens elimination of laws which control the effective implementation of civil rights initiatives. Considering the ages of current Justices, this Gorsuch threat could last 40 years or more and impact society for generations beyond that.
For all who say otherwise, voting has consequences! Those hood-winked by declarations of a failing society and non-voters who saw no reason to vote have helped shaped this reversal of fortune. In support of political interests promoted in the last election, the Supreme Court and Department of Justice, once allies and defenders of the rights of vulnerable citizens, have turned their backs on those who’ve depended upon their objective judgments.
(Dr. E. Faye Williams is National President of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. 202/678-6788. www.nationalcongressbw.org)