NATIONAL SHAME (clockwise, from top left): Kimberly McCarthy, homicidal nurse sent “home to Jesus” on June 26 by the homicidal state of Texas; Rick Perry, the “Christian” governor of Texas, heir to a hunting club called “Niggerhead”; a lynched corpse in Alabama, circa 1930—a a frequent public display advising southern blacks to forget about voting; John Roberts, chief “justice” of the U.S. Supreme Court, ringleader of a judicial wrecking crew that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965—meant to guarantee voting rights for African Americans.
‘The Law is a Ass—a Idiot!’
The U.S. Supreme KKKourt & Other Venues of Legal Hubris
By Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2013 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK, near America
John Lewis, a noble bulldog in the cause of civil liberties, was nearly beaten to death in the Deep South city of Selma on March 7, 1965. Big-bellied state troopers in helmets and mirrored sunglasses, a fashion statement admired by the local White Citizens Council, clubbed him with truncheons on the deck of a bridge over the Alabama River—a highway span erected in 1940 in honor of Edmund Pettus, “grand wizard” of the state’s Ku Klux Klan in the 1870s and 1880s, and a lawyer by profession.
Troopers fractured Mr. Lewis’ skull on that Sabbath Day of ‘65 as he and six hundred of his fellow activists, likewise assaulted, knelt in prayer for their lives. In the mêlée of “Bloody Sunday,” as the infamous date became known, Mr. Lewis escaped to a local church, which sheltered him until he could be safely hospitalized. For a time, the four-day march he would eventually lead to the capital in Montgomery—in protest of laws that kept black citizens from voting in Alabama and elsewhere in the southern slave states of the Old Confederacy—was stalled.
Blood, and plenty of it, was necessary spillage in long process of persuading the United States Congress to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which between then and now abolished the more egregious forms of racism in the American electoral system.
But now comes the Supreme Court of the United States with an update on old injustice. This court, infected by right-wing partisanship, broke Mr. Lewis’ heart.
Following the U.S. Civil War (1860-1865), the legal establishment of a defeated South took revenge on its vulnerable population of newly freed slaves, and continued through the decades with by imposing humiliation, violence, educational and economic privations on their descendants. A century of racial apartheid—laws governing elections and public facilities, schooling, public accommodations, judicial efficacy; social customs harmful in day-to-day encounters between blacks and whites—was in effect throughout the South from the 1865 until 1965. This was the “Jim Crow” era, so named for a popular stage entertainment of the time: white entertainers blackened their faces with burnt cork, donned curly wigs, slathered their lips in rouge, and sang derisory songs in a stereotypical vernacular of plantation slaves.
The Voting Rights Act of ’65 killed Jim Crow. Or so we thought.
In years prior to the act, blacks seeking to register as voters were typically required to pay a “poll tax,” applicable exclusively to them. Many could not afford the fee. Those who could encountered further barriers: commonly, they were asked to recite all one thousand, one hundred and thirty-seven words of the American Declaration of Independence. If an “uppity Negro” was able to do so, he was required to recite the document again—this time backwards. (I know of an ultra-uppity individual from the state of Louisiana who mastered the forwards-backwards charade. He received his voter identification card, along with a police beating that maimed him for life.)
The merger of two powerful institutions now spare us the need of brutes with badges, and voting office registrars to certify oral recitations. These institutions are the Supreme Court and the Republican Party, the latter being a radically different assemblage than the “Grand Old Party” of reasonable men such as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower.
The modern G.O.P., which came to a full froth of inchoate anger in 2008 with the election of America’s first black president, is an amalgam of bigots, Babbits, and buffoons that would embarrass the late Messrs. Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower. Republicans hold near complete political control of the South, with significant power bases in the Middle West and shoot-‘em-up states of the Far West. Republicans are overwhelmingly white, male, old and cranky—and economically secure, even as most of us worry daily about money and stable employment. Republicans are hugely unpopular with African Americans, Latinos, women, the young, and the poor—and they know it.
Like woodchucks and related creatures of the rodent world, Republicans are not intelligent, but they are single-minded. They are determined to stay in power, and know that keeping the “uppity” down is a proven means of doing so; probably the only way in a nation rushing pell-mell toward a new dawn of demographics in which tetchy white men are an insufficient constituency for electoral success.
They know, too, that The Law serves mankind for better and for worse. In the interest of retaining power, it becomes vital for the modern G.O.P. to rely on the worse by brokering useful appointments to the highest court of the land. Such is evident to Robert Reich of the University of California at Berkeley, who said as much in his July 2 column for the online Huffington Post.
“When it comes to the core political strategy of the Republican Party,” wrote Professor Reich, who served as labor secretary under President Bill Clinton, “the five Republican appointees [to the Supreme Court] are, in effect, an extension of the G.O.P.”
With its decision of Tuesday, June 25, in the matter of Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, clearing the way for a whole new Jim Crow era.
Governor Rick Perry of Texas—a well-coiffed Christian evangelical, contender for his party’s nomination for the presidency in 2016, and heir to a family hunting camp called “Niggerhead”—was first in a mad dash of Republican state officials to take advantage of the court’s disgraceful decision in Shelby. More about Mr. Perry, and Texas, later herein.
The cornerstone provision of the Voting Rights Act, now gutted by the five-member Republican majority of the Supreme Court, was the so-called preclearance rule under Section 5. This required states with a history of harassing minority voters to obtain Washington’s permission to alter voting procedures—in advance of elections.
In her written dissent on behalf of the four-member Democratic Party minority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared:
The Voting Rights Act became one of the most consequential, efficacious, and amply justified exercises of federal legislative power in our nation’s history. Thanks to the V.R.A., progress once the subject of a dream has been achieved, and continues to be made. …Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the V.R.A.
The court foreshadowed its June 25 decision in Shelby with a decision rendered the day before, in the matter of Fisher v. University of Texas. The plaintiff Fisher, a white applicant to the university, claimed she was passed over for admission in favor of a black candidate for no other reason than equitable racial balance in accordance with “affirmative action” policy.
By a seven-to-one vote—Justice Ginsburg dissented here as well—the court ordered stringent new standards for applying affirmative action statutes, enacted by Congress in the 1960s as antidotes to Jim Crow enrollment traditions at lily-white southern universities funded by taxpayers of all races.
President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) laid out the need and purpose for affirmative action in a speech at Howard University in 1966. The white poor, Mr. Johnson said, “did not have the hatred of centuries to overcome, and they did not have a cultural tradition which had been twisted and battered by endless years of hatred and hopelessness.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, the lone African American on the court and a man seriously afflicted by lily-envy, was especially enthusiastic about making things more difficult for black students by comparing affirmative action to slavery. Slavery was a cruelty known by Justice Thomas’ ancestors, whereas affirmative action programs were Justice Thomas’ very own ticket to education and out of poverty.
In a separate twenty-page opinion accompanying the much shorter decision in Fisher, he wrote:
Slaveholders argued that slavery was a ‘positive good’ that civilized blacks and elevated them in every dimension of life. A century later, segregationists similarly asserted that segregation was not only benign, but good for black students. …Following in these inauspicious footsteps, the University would have us believe that [affirmative action] is likewise benign. …The University’s professed good intentions cannot excuse its outright racial discrimination any more than such intentions justified the now-denounced arguments of slaveholders and segregationists.
Colorblindness is routinely claimed by the benighted ideologues of what some now call the Supreme KKKourt, headed by Chief Justice John Roberts. Given lifetime appointment to the bench by George W. Bush, arguably the most intellectually challenged president in American history, the 55-year-old Justice Roberts will be in charge for a long time. In a remarkably obtuse passage from an opinion of his authorship, Justice Roberts dispensed pithy instruction on how to deal with racism: “[T]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
Somewhere, perhaps in Heaven, Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is amused by the U.S. Supreme Court conduct. The Victorian era writer had much to say about The Law, and practitioners such as Edmund Pettus and John Roberts. In his novel “Oliver Twist,” Mr. Dickens employed the voice of an ungrammatical, hubristic London beadle called Mr. Bumble. Of the lawyerly administration of societal order, Mr. Bumble said, “The law is a ass—a idiot!”
The Dickensian wing of the U.S. Supreme Court, besides John Roberts (from left): Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence “Uncle Tom” Thomas, Antonin Scalia.
John Lewis survived Selma to become a distinguished elder of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was first elected in 1986 from a district in the majority black city of Atlanta. Beyond Atlanta, the state of Georgia and other venues of Republican oppression have for years rigged election procedures to restrict minority participation.
In black neighborhoods during the elections of November 2012, for instance, Republican bosses cut back so drastically on the number of polling sites and personnel that it was common for voters to wait on line for six, eight, and ten hours—those able to wait, that is. In light of Shelby, unconscionable waits may well become the new normal.
“It is confounding that after decades of progress on voting rights, which had become part of the American fabric, the Supreme Court would tear it asunder,” said Mr. Lewis in an interview with MSNBC Television. “These men that voted to strip the Voting Rights Act of power, they never stood in immovable lines.
“I didn’t think, on the day when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, that I would live to see five members of the Supreme Court undoing what President Johnson did.”
The hardheaded Congressman had fair warning for Republicans:
“I think what happened with the Supreme Court will motivate hundreds and thousands of people—African American, Latino, white, Asian American, Native American, men, women, students. They will come out! The vote is precious! We must not forget our past. We must not forget our history. If we forget it, we will repeat it.”
Texas State Penitentiary, Huntsville
Two items on Rick Perry’s gubernatorial schedules of Tuesday, June 25, and Wednesday, June 26, are noteworthy: voter suppression schemes he hoped to activate in anticipation of a friendly decision on Tuesday from fellow Republicans in Shelby, and pro forma paperwork in advance of Wednesday evening’s scheduled execution of a 52-year-old ex-nurse and convicted murderer named Kimberly LaGayle McCarthy.
Merely two hours after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, the Perry administration declared vindication for election law changes rejected by Washington under the now abolished pre-clearance review:
• Forthwith, voters unlikely to own government-issued photographic identification documents—we know who They are—shall be required to produce same as a condition of voting;
• Forthwith, jiggering Congressional district borderlines to assure Republican victory is kosher;
• Forthwith, the Sunday voting option and extended after-work polling hours popular with You Know Who are abolished.
In the early evening of June 26, Rick Perry sat down for dinner in the Governor’s Executive Mansion in Austin, the capital city. Meanwhile, latex gloved prison guards strapped Ms. McCarthy to a gurney in the execution chamber of the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, a red brick hulk adjacent to acreage that was once a plantation where hundreds of African slaves picked cotton.
Intravenous tubes were inserted into both Ms. McCarthy’s wrists. A single dose of pentobarbital was readied for an injection period of twenty minutes, after which the state recorded its five hundredth execution since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated by—take a wild guess—the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ms. McCarthy—descended from slaves, ex-wife of New Black Panthers founder Aaron Michaels, addicted to crack cocaine—was found guilty of stabbing a neighbor to death with a butcher knife while borrowing a cup of sugar.
Down a hallway from the execution chamber, the Huntsville prison maintains the Texas Death Penalty Museum, which features a catalogue of last words from the condemned. In Ms. McCarthy’s case: “This is not a loss. This is a win. You know where I’m going. I’m going home to Jesus. Keep the faith. I love you all.”
At some point after Ms. McCarthy uttered those words, Governor Perry was served his favorite dessert: “cowboy cookies,” a confection of oatmeal and coconut shavings. A gun-toting ardent champion of the death penalty, Mr. Perry is likely to seek the Republican Party nomination for president in 2016.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in Shelby, in which he claimed great social progress since 1965. “Nearly fifty years later,” he said, “things have changed dramatically.”
Thomas Adcock is American correspondent for CulturMag.