My interest in the Supreme Court dates to third grade. At such a tender age, I knew the State of Louisiana was not my friend. The Supreme Court’s decision striking down separate but equal made me believe the men on the Supreme Court understood my situation in a way I could not believe the average Southerner understood or cared to know. During my college years I made my first trip to Washington, D. C. Amazed at the number of columns on what I called the porch of the Supreme Court building, I was more amazed when the young tour guide said, “The twenty-four columns represent the twenty-four hours of the day—justice is the rule.” I audibly voiced my one-word dissent. The young woman heard and responded, “That’s what it stands for.”
Of course, the Court has made decisions with which I and many others disagree; Dred Scott and Plessy vs. Ferguson come to mind, the most glaring. But lately this senior usually disagrees with the court: Bush v. Gore (2000), Citizens United (2010), Hobby Lobby (2014), Voting Rights (2014), Gerrymandering (2018), for example. After the Voting Rights and the gerrymandering decisions were handed down, I wrote the Court expressing my displeasure. (smile)
Recently, I decided to look at the history of the Supreme Court, the persons who get security in the form of job tenure for life, pensions and medical care, persons who leave the positions only after retiring or dying. It took from 1789 until 1967 to have an African-American justice, until 1981 to have a white woman justice, and until 2009 to have a justice of Hispanic descent. Of the 113 justices, two are African Americans, and three are women. I wonder how many other Americans know this, think about it, wonder if it makes any difference. And then I looked at the education of the justices. Every Supreme Court justice went to Harvard or Yale! Though the U. S. has more than 200 law schools, Harvard and Yale graduates predominate.
Scholars far more important than I have looked at these numbers. Author and University of Tennessee law professor Benjamin H. Barton in “An Empirical Study of Supreme Court Justice Pre-Appointment Experience” argues that justices of the Roberts Court “...have spent less time in the private practice of law, in trial judging, and as elected politicians than any previous Court.” Washington Post reporter William Wan points out that Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh went to the same prep school and both clerked for retired justice Anthony Kennedy!
The duty of the Supreme Court is to make the final decision when there is a controversy about the interpretation of the Constitution or any laws. The operating principle of the Court, always uppermost, I think, should be what I label the Court’s motto: “Equal Justice Under the Law.” If justices have important similarities, we should not be surprised when they rule similarly. I submit that some members of the Court know little about the people whom they represent. I would not be surprised if those members said, “To be fair, we do not need to know about the constituents, our concern is with the law.”
However, if we are to have “equal justice under the law,” it seems that judges must know more about the population, know about the present—and often longstanding inequality—of some of the laws. Take, for example, the voting rights change. President Barack Obama, Former Attorney General Eric Holder, Southern Poverty Law Center founder Morris Dees, Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and President Jimmy Carter are among the millions of Americans who knew that this decision would work to the detriment of voting rights for millions of Americans. Perhaps if some of the justices had been in one of the neighborhoods, perhaps they could have seen the error and foreseen the decrease in the number of voters.
Citizens have little to say about who becomes a Supreme Court justice. Since the 60s, only three nominees have been rejected by the Senate. Most of us of a certain age know Speaker Mitch McConnell took no action on the nomination of Merrick Garland in March of 2016 and said, “One of my proudest moments was when I told Obama, ‘You will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.” Do you think the founders expected majority leaders to act in this manner? The appointees seem to be beholden to the persons who nominated them to the Court, or, at least, to their party. Considering the need for impartiality, the goal to make the United States a “more perfect Union,” the American people need to act now.
~Georgia S. McDade
Food for thought
Even though 51% of the U.S. population is women, there are only three women on the Supreme Court. And though only 22% of U.S. population is Catholic, 66% of the Supreme Court is Catholic.
(Facts from U.S. census and Google)