By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
With all of the political confusion and chaos swirling around, a belief in the commitment of the United States Supreme Court to always be on the side of justice would be of comfort. Such confidence, however, would be ill placed.
Historically, in spite of what aggrieved groups would consider justice in their cases, the nation’s high court has fallen short. The decisions rendered have been more the function of the cultural beliefs of the judges than of consideration of what “equal justice under the law” actually means. Unjust laws have been supported by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The verbiage of some of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices in rendering their decisions has been heartbreaking. In the case of Buck v Bell, the high court supported the right of agencies to engage in forced sterilization of those whom they considered to be inferior, mentally or physically. Buck, who had been sterilized after giving birth to one child, was considered to be an “imbecile” for reasons that made sense to eugenics proponents. Her child had been taken away from her, and she decided to fight for justice. She challenged the laws that had made her sterilization legal all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, but lost. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, still considered to be one of this country’s greatest legal minds, wrote the reasoning behind the court’s decision, ultimately writing his and the court’s belief that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The court ruled against her 8-1.
When Southern Democrats repealed large portions of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, the so-called “Reconstruction Amendments” that were passed to establish citizenship of African Americans, to finally make slavery illegal, and to give African Americans the right to vote and equal protection under the law, the Supreme Court far too often supported them. The court, say some scholars, worked to protect the power of Whites in power. There are dozens of examples, but an underlying belief, says historian Eric Foner in The Second Founding was that “nonwhite populations were unfit for participation in democracy.” The amendments notwithstanding, the court very often upheld the tenets of white supremacy.
Of course, we all know about the words of U.S. Chief Justice Roger Taney, who ruled in the Dred Scott decision that there were “no rights of a Black man that a White man was bound to respect.” And in Plessy v Ferguson, it was the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled that the state of Louisiana had not violated the 14th Amendment by establishing and enforcing a policy of racial segregation in its railway system.
With the history of the nation’s highest court being proponents and supporters of injustice in regards to the rights of Black and Brown people, women, and others who are not wealthy, White males, this present day is cause of concern. Though judges and justices are supposed to be impartial, historically, their rulings have shown that they are not. If one is “poor and innocent,” as Equal Justice Initiative Executive Director Bryan Stevenson says, he or she has less chance of obtaining justice in the courts than if he or she is “rich and guilty.”
All this matters because we are seeing a violation of “the rule of law” coming from the federal government. Cases headed to the nation’s highest court include those dealing with immigration, the Second Amendment, student debt, Louisiana’s abortion law, and the president’s taxes, according to The Hill. There is little to no comfort that under this administration, which includes the Justice Department under the direction of Bill Barr, justice for “the least of these” will be done. The demand by the president that people be loyal to him and not to the Constitution or to the country presents a slew of problems, the biggest of which is that the court, which is now dominated by conservative judges, seems to be likewise wedded to the president and not to the needs and concerns of ordinary people.
The fact that the court has a history of being not so just to the underserved in this nation makes today’s reality a little less jaunting; the dissipation of “justice” for “the least of these” has never been a high priority, but with the goings on of this administration and the blatant disregard for the rule of law coupled with the demand of loyalty to a man whose only interests are his own, the plight of this nation’s most ignored citizens will only deepen.
If it is true that the greatness of a nation is judged by the way it treats its underserved, this country cannot be considered great, but rather, must be considered to be just as corrupt as the nations it has historically disparaged for injustice and human rights violations.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. Her latest book, Rest for the Justice-Seeking Soul, is now available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. She is available for speaking. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.