Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once stated that “Equal means getting the same thing, at the same time and in the same place.” During the years of the Marshall Court and those that followed, when the huge social issues of the day made their way to the Supreme Court, people like you and me and all the other members of the LGBT community held out hope that achieving that definition of equality could happen someday for us. Maybe it would not be today and maybe not tomorrow – but the hope and the faith that one day we would be granted our inalienable rights of equality and human decency kept many going through the eons of hiding, discrimination, violence, and inhumanity.
Thurgood Marshall himself, who believed that we should do what we think is right and let the law catch up, knew this process was not a speedy one but that it was inevitable, in its march to fix the flaws in our nation’s systems and institutions and advance as a better country. He acknowledged his own debt to this slow but steady march: “Today’s Constitution is a realistic document of freedom only because of several corrective amendments. Those amendments speak to a sense of decency and fairness that I and other blacks cherish.”
This need for “corrective amendments,” this necessity for some laws and systems to change with the needs of a changing society – this is fundamental to the Supreme Court in which I am invested. Why? Because the laws and institutions of this country were crafted by and still serve for the benefit of straight, white, Christian men of means. This is the discriminatory water in which we all swim – the racist and sexist and homophobic water – today and all of our yesterdays. It may be true that for their time our founding class of landed gentry men were more advanced than the rest of the world, but that is not cutting it – and it hasn’t cut it from the beginning.
The Supreme Court is the instrument, the last word, the reckoning place for laws and institutions which deny this fundamental equality (to have the same thing at the same time in the same place), to act on the behalf of those long denied, to be a counter-majoritive voice in the American landscape. Part of the reason for this is that Congress does not dare take on these issues – the lasting legacy of Newt Gingrich and his gang of bullying, scorch-earth Republicans who rode into town on Ronald Reagan’s horsetails, set up camp, and laid waste to the foundation of the politics of compromise which, at least, allowed for real policies to be enacted. Those in power in Washington today, on both sides of the aisle, have no problem with passing the power for the big controversial decisions to the Supreme Court, thus avoiding having to face the consequence back home come election time for taking a stand, on anything.
And often, the Supreme Court has come through. If I propose to my girlfriend tomorrow and she says yes, we can go anywhere in our home state and get married, just like other people have been able to do for centuries without thinking anything of it. We don’t have to get married ourselves in secret and with no legal recognition, we don’t have to go to certain states where it is legal while others are not – we now have equality at the same time and in the same place. Marshall is surely smiling from the great beyond.
But as the drama of the broken Supreme Court nominations process unfolded over the last few weeks and Brett Kavanaugh spewed over his contempt for the political left, it was terrifying and portentous for us and all the other minority and politically powerless groups in this country – African-Americans who suffer so disproportionately on social justice issues, women who do not have access to nearby abortion clinics, prenatal care, and cancer screening provided by Planned Parenthood-type clinics, women who are discriminated against in the workplace and assaulted by those in powerful position, those without cars, driver’s licenses and the ability to drive long distances when neighborhood polling places are shuttered, the physically and mentally handicapped, people on low incomes who don’t have access to healthcare, workers who need on site safety protections of all kinds, immigrants striving to become citizens, those who have been incarcerated instead of treated for the symptoms of generations of scripted poverty and lack of opportunity … and the list goes on.
When the pressure hit and the mask came off of Brett Kavanaugh, the ugly putrid truth was revealed under the television lights. Kavanaugh is someone who does not view it as progress if certain groups, previously denied rights and pathways of opportunity, are lifted up to be in the position to acquire those rights in real-time. Instead, they are “the mob,” out to take what he has, what is his birthright. This is the lens through which they view everything. Thus, the calcifying Republicans of the Judiciary Committee did not see Dr. Ford as a victim of traumatic sexual assault which has colored her entire life, they saw her as someone who was out to take away their power. One in the hordes who are trying to do that to them, each and every day.
“Trumpism, at its core, is a rebellion against changes in American society that undermine traditional hierarchies. It’s based on the belief that these changes, rather than promoting fairness for historically oppressed groups, actually promote ‘political correctness’: the oppression of white, native-born Christian men,” wrote Peter Beinart. The Trumpist faithful not only refuse to face the reality of our all-pervasive institutionalized racism and discrimination, they are determined to declare themselves the victim and fight to the death against any perceived attack on their reeking, diseased status quo.
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan recently made a speech in which she expressed concern over imperative of preserving the Court’s institutional legitimacy of the nation’s highest court and keeping the public trust. “The strength of the Supreme Court as an institution of American governance depends on it having a certain kind of legitimacy, it depends on people believing that it is not simply an extension of politics,” the Justice stated. She went on to ponder the consequences if people have no reason to accept the Court’s decisions because it is believed to be no different from the political branches.
With the triumph of Brett Kavanaugh, this time is now. Who will now act for the historically oppressed?
- Sage Piper lives on poetry, coffee, the Resistance, and lots of pasta. She works all day supporting those who choose to spend their lives working to improve her beloved Bmore and the lives of her fellow citizens, in every neighborhood. Sage came to Baltimore in the 1980’s to study political science and attend Johns Hopkins University, fell full-swoon into the open, irresistible arms of Charm City, and she has never left. Along the way she has been a restaurant sous chef, a White House intern, an elementary school teacher, an incurable optimist, and a fervent political junkie. On off hours, you can probably find Sage running with Back On My Feet,hanging at Red Emma’s, dancing til dawn, or sipping Zeke’s coffee and buying local produce, pickles, and garlic olives every Saturday morning at the Waverly Farmer’s Market. Sage’s favorite time of year is when Baltimore springs to life amid the crack of baseball bats in the air, both weekend Farmer’s Markets in full swing,and road bikes tuning up for the140-mile ride with many big-hearted soulmates for the Ride For The Feast to raise money and support her favorite mission, Moveable Feast in Baltimore.