Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Where have all the flowers gone?

We are fifty years after "Freedom Summer" in Mississippi this summer.  And the Roberts court has declared, as Charlie Pierce likes to call it, the "Jubilee" when it comes to voting rights.  People died in Mississippi in 1964 and after, to secure voting rights.  The Roberts court has declared all of that of no value or account, and declared we are free of the need to worry about voting rights anymore.

It is 60 years gone since Brown v. Board of Education, still regarded as one of the landmark Supreme Court rulings on par with Marbury v. Madison or Roe v. Wade.  Brown is one of a handful of cases almost everyone knows by name, even if they don't quite know what the holding was.  All they know is, it was right.

That ruling, too, has been gutted by the Court since, and laid to rest by the Roberts court, with the Chief Justice intoning the tautology: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."  Of course, Brown didn't try to stop discrimination on the basis of race; it tried to eliminate the heinous practice of separate but equal, which always means separate and unequal.  No matter; 60 years later, Brown is as dead as if it had never been decided.  As Pedro Noguero told Chris Hayes, "We've pretty much come to accept de facto segregation as being the norm."

But we comfort ourselves with knowing the Court did the right thing in 1954, and we live on as a nation under that now hollowed out and meaningless ruling.

This is not to damn the Roberts court, though I have nothing good to say about its rulings.  Much of what that Court has done is merely tip over the rotted trees destroyed by the Berger and Rehnquist courts.  No, the Roberts court is not to blame here.  It is our modern "liberal" faith in the courts that has failed us.

The Warren Court was the aberration, the exception that proves the rule.  Baby Boomers grew up with that court's rulings:  Miranda; Gideon; Brown; the school prayer cases (if I named them, would you know them?); Roe; and the opinions, especially of Justice Douglas, that erected the "wall" between church and state.  The rulings we thought were inviolate, that established the Court as the bulwark between tyranny and the people, between injustice and justice.  Those rulings are crumbling like sand castles as the tide comes in.  4th Amendment cases I learned about in law school 30 years ago are so changed now I don't pretend to know anything about that area of the law.  The 2nd Amendment has been read almost beyond recognition now, and bizarre concepts of constitutional law embodied in Bush v. Gore or the ACA ruling rival Roe v. Wade for shaky legal foundations and rule by judicial fiat.  Even Miranda stands shakily, honored more on TV than in the courtroom.

It is not all doom and gloom; not even the Roberts court has returned us wholesale to the laissez-faire days of the Gilded Age.  But the idea that, once the Court does the right thing, all things shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well, should certainly be dead and buried now under the landslide of history.  60 years later, Brown v. Board of Education is a hollow memorial to an American ideal more honored in the breach than in the keeping.  50 years later, the people who died to bring voting rights to the entire country, to every city and township, mean as little to us as the deaths of soldiers in the war with Mexico in the 19th century.

Long time passing, but it's gone.

1 comment:

  1. Ignoring that the make up of the court depended on who was appointing and confirming them was bound to end badly. A lot of glamorizing the court was a PR con by some of those in and around the court and DC based court reporters veiling the all too human, all too political institution in some mystique of quasi-religious reverence and respect. The right, which used to put up bill boards calling for the impeachment of Earl Warren and practically called for the lyncing of W. O. Douglass didn't make that mistake and it stood them in a lot better stead than it did liberals who got suckered into a sure loser of a strategy.

    I've come to the conclusion that one of the problems is that the kinds of elite liberalish types who are the media voice of liberalism are just plain lazy. not motivated by the prospects of suffering real consequences for the political failure of a real liberal agenda, one which puts real justice at the center, not some abstract, theoretical absolutes which, oddly, seem to also work so much better for the conservatives once everything has settled down from the premature victory party on the left.