July 12, 2018 

By Talley Morton & Faith Petrie 

LAWT Interns 


It’s no coincidence that the thought of political power manifests the imagery of White, straight males. Who can blame us when those are the traits that plague people who have historically inherited power.


With this power, the Black community is either negatively or positively affected.


A significant deciding factor in the daily lives of not only Black people, but the entirety of the American population, is the Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS.


According to Scholastic.com, "The Supreme Court is the final judge in all cases involving laws of Congress, and the highest law of all -- the Constitution."


Historically, laws passed by the Court most directly affect the most disenfranchised groups, including low-income, rural, and minority groups.


The Affordable Care Act (ACA), which opposers attacked for being socialist, limited, and targeting the wealthy. However, studies from data firm Civis Analytics show that low-income, rural areas benefited most from the ACA.


Similarly, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting, must be continuously renewed to maintain validity. From 2011 to 2012, Mother Jones reported that 19 Republican-controlled states passed laws that restricted voting access by requiring voter IDs, cutting back on early voting, and restricting voter registration. These laws disproportionately affected Democratic communities with high percentages of people of color.


Today, the Voting Rights Act’s renewal is threatened by justices within the Supreme Court who have tried to weaken it in the past. With President Trump’s promise to appoint like-minded justices, not only will African American and other minority groups feel the impact the greatest, but so will low-income and other historically neglected facets of America.


The Divisive History of the Supreme Court


The Supreme Court of the United States was officially established in the year 1789.


To give a glimpse into the mindset during that time, slavery was still legal in the United States, so the cases brought to the Supreme Court reflected this ideology.


Dred Scott v. Sandford is a direct manifestation of the historical discrimination of the Supreme Court. In this 1857 case, the Court ruled that Dred Scott could not sue in federal court due to his status as an American of African descent.


Although this could be a testament to its time, the Court settled on cases that hurt not only Black individuals but the Black community as well during this time period.


This is also observed in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case that settled on the idea that African Americans were to be recognized as “separate but equal” in the eyes of public establishments.


Although at the time, it may have appeared as though this ruling was recognizing the Black community, it still put them in an awkward position -- how can someone be treated separately by the general public, yet be seen as “equal?”


A change in action could be seen in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, in which Chief Justice Earl Warren stated according to civilrights.org: “We conclude, unanimously, that in the field of public education,, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”


This change of tune paved the way for Black communities to hold an inkling of representation in the Supreme Court.


With the change in court decisions coming into fruition, as did the look of those who held a seat at the benches of the Court. Thurgood Marshall was the first African American associate justice of the Supreme Court and held that position from 1967 to 1991.


Thurgood Marshall did a lot of good for the Black community as an active member of the NAACP which should be applauded but a misconception among many is if a Black person holds a position of power, they are destined to work on behalf of the community.


This misconception is aptly observed in George H. W. Bush’s appointment of Clarence Thomas as the second African American justice following Marshall.


Marshall and Thomas, though sharing a common racial background, could not have been more different.


Marshall was hailed as a civil rights advocate and a supporter of judicial activism, describing his judicial philosophy as “You do what you think is right and let the law catch up.” Before joining the other eight Supreme Court justices, he was a respected Howard University graduate with a successful private practice. He worked with the NAACP and brought the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education to the Supreme Court, which prohibited segregation in public schools.


Thomas’ history, especially as it relates to the Black community, represents a sharp departure from his predecessor.


Thomas’ appointment came at a time when the United States government, post-Reagan, was slowly but surely becoming more conservative. The era is punctuated by supply-side, “trickle-down” economic theory defined by decreased regulation and lowered taxes as well as the Rehnquist Court. The nine justices who served on the Supreme Court during this era, set a precedent for a right-leaning Court, though scholars suggest that later appointments, including that of Thomas, continued this legacy.


Outside of the justices themselves, the cases that come to the Supreme Court are important areas of change as well.


Roe v. Wade Not Universally Endorsed 


Today, President Trump and his supporters are against the landmark case Roe v. Wade (1973), which legalized abortions nationwide. Despite ambivalence toward his stance on abortion (according to The Washington Post, he took five different positions on the issue in only three days), many worry that he will ignore the 67% of Americans who would not like to see the decision overturned.


With Trump’s recent Supreme Court pick of Brett Kavanaugh, many fear the worse could potentially come true. Though scholars debate the legality and validity of overturning the landmark case, others worry that Trump and the right-leaning justices can set precedents, which limit abortions without completely throwing Roe v. Wade to the “ash heap[s] of history,” as is Vice President Mike Pence’s desire.




Unlike the president, Pence is a staunch anti-abortion advocate, and his track record says so. With the justice appointment in the Trump administration’s hands, the future is in flux.


However, Black people all support Roe v. Wade and abortion legalization across the country. Just as conservative, race-blind African American Justice Clarence Thomas, Black Americans do not, and cannot be expected to fit into specific ideological categories. The growing number of Black anti-abortion advocates exemplify this trend.


Black women are five times more likely to get an abortion, despite the currently low rate of U.S. abortions. Black pro-choice advocates, many coming from conservative Black churches, believe that abortion is a form of genocide against the Black community.


“Black women are having higher numbers of abortions than their population,” said Yoruba Chen, a filmmaker who documented the divide in her short film “Anti-Abortion Crusaders: Inside the African-American Abortion Battle.” “The real question that reproductive rights people want to look at is why that’s the case. What is it that is causing those numbers? And it’s everything from lack of sex education, health care access and many, many other causes people have looked into and written about. You can definitely use that statistic in many ways.”


While the Black pro-life movement remains a minority, it speaks to the ideological variation within the Black community. Therefore, a justice who can navigate the beliefs of “the Black community” and vote in their favor is a farce, if not downright naive.



SCOTUS Does Not Yet Reflect Changing Demographics


America’s racial landscape is quickly changing. With these transformations, the politics of the country may change. But to believe that Black people support a liberal government that takes responsibility for the welfare of its people is a stretch. The 47 million African Americans in this country, occupy various economic brackets, sexualities, abilities, and other identifiers that are far from monolithic.




To date, the Supreme Court of the United States has remained majority White, and in the first 180 years, the Court was exclusively composed of White men. In its 229-year history, only two justices have been Black, one has been Latino, and three have been women.


For the Supreme Court to actively account for and make a difference in the lives of African Americans and other minority groups, the responsibility must be actively and continuously taken up by all branches of government in a concerted effort to listen to the desires of the American people.


“Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country,” Thurgood Marshall told the University of Virginia’s graduating class in 1978. “This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.”





Category: News