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Lawmakers shouldn’t add to delay of justice

ERIC JOHNSON | 4/17/2017, 3:09 a.m.
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal ...
Rep. Eric Johnson of the Texas House of Representatives. Official photo

Texas House of Representatives

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal and thereby ended the decades-long practice of segregating our nation’s public school students according to their race.

This “fact” was probably lost on my dad when, in 1964, he walked across the stage at James Madison High School in Dallas to receive his diploma along with his classmates, not a single one of whom was White. The same would have been true for my mom, who also is African American, when she graduated from L.G. Pinkston High School in Dallas the following year: Her high school graduating class, too, was 100 percent Black. And make no mistake – unlike today, the Dallas Independent School District had plenty of White students back in 1964-65. They just didn’t attend school with Black students like my mom and dad. But what about the ruling in Brown a decade before? Didn’t that ruling mean anything?

On March 10, a panel of three federal judges ruled 2-1 in a case known as Perez v. Abbott that the Texas Legislature “acted with an impermissible intent to dilute minority voting strength or otherwise violated the 14th Amendment” when it drew boundaries for the 23rd, 27th and 35th congressional districts of Texas back in 2011, and that minority voters in those districts “are still being harmed by the lines drawn as the direct product of these violations.”

It took the majority 165 pages to document the full nature of the Legislature’s willful violation of the constitutional and voting rights of minorities in those congressional districts, but the court was able to state its conclusion rather succinctly: “The configurations of CD23, CD27, and CD35 ... are therefore invalid.”

Now back to Brown v. Board of Education. A year after that landmark opinion declared segregated schools unconstitutional, the Supreme Court was asked to address how the evil of segregation should be dismantled. The second Brown opinion, or Brown II, contained four seemingly innocuous words that were later used to deny minorities their constitutional right to attend racially integrated public schools for an embarrassingly long time: “With all deliberate speed.”

No one knew what that phrase meant in 1955, and no one knows what that phrase means even today. But what we do know is that those four words gave every segregationist in the United States the wiggle room necessary to keep Black kids and White kids from attending school together for decades after Brown II was decided.

The lesson to be taken from Brown II, particularly for minorities, is that when it comes to our constitutional rights, it is never a good idea to wait. Justice delayed, when it comes to our constitutional rights, is justice denied. History requires that we dismiss with extreme prejudice any suggestion that we, folks whose fundamental rights have been violated time and time again, wait before we receive justice.

Back to the present: On March 15, five days after the majority ruled in Perez, I wrote a letter to State Rep. Cindy Burkett, chairman of the House Committee on Redistricting, asking her to convene a formal meeting of the committee so that we could be briefed by legal counsel on the implications of the ruling and to schedule hearings immediately regarding the three congressional district maps that were invalidated by the court. I copied Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on the letter. After a week without a reply from either of them, I sent a second letter reiterating my request.

As of April 3, neither of them had answered either letter.

The redistricting committee has not held a single meeting or hearing this entire session, actually, despite the fact that taxpayer dollars presumably are being used to pay for a committee staff and to maintain a committee office in the Texas Capitol. Word in the halls of that Capitol is that the House Republican leadership’s plan is to wait and see how some related redistricting litigation progresses before acting ...

With all deliberate speed.

Eric Johnson represents District 100, which includes parts of Dallas and Mesquite, in the Texas House of Representatives. He serves on three prominent committees: he is Vice Chair of the House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety, and a member of the powerful House Calendars Committee.