Undoing the Legacy of an Exceptional Negro

Conservatives are aiming to undo the accomplishments of an exceptional Negro. I could be talking about Barack Obama and recent efforts around the Affordable Care Act and the Paris Climate Agreement. But today I was more so thinking about someone from an era in which that label would have been more appropriate — Thurgood Marshall. Not only did the nation recently mark the 50th Anniversary of his nomination to the Supreme Court but there reason to be concerned about his legacy (alongside Obama’s).

The Legacy

Marshall’s nomination to the nation’s highest court was a pinnacle in an unrivaled career. As an attorney, Marshall set records for his appearances and wins before the Supreme Court. But, more importantly, he led a real life Justice League of legal superheroes who revolutionized American jurisprudence. Through skill and persistence, their cases dealt destructive blows to Jim Crow. Brown v. Board of Education, his most well-known case, was accompanied by several others impacting areas such as higher education, employment, and voting rights.

And then there was more. Apparently, something happens when you noticeably illustrate that the courts can ensure justice for the least politically powerful people in society. Others came to the courthouse doors.

Many were inspired by the legal strategies and modus operandi developed by Marshall and his team. Some were able to rely on court precedents they established. These “others” or “almost everybodies” include women, people with disabilities, senior citizens, and a broad range of people of color. Progress has never been even or perfect but these groups won their own victories in the fight for equality.

The Current Stakes

This is quite a legacy. Enter the anti-heroes. Organizers on the far right have been trying to decrease access to the courts for the last couple decades.

Judicial nominations are a key component of their campaign. The Federalist Society, an association of conservative lawyers, is at the forefront of conservative efforts. They have been known to offer up the names of their members for judicial nominations. Candidate Trump announced that he would let this private organization choose judges for him.

The Federalist Society’s focus on the Constitution’s original intent (and other lofty theories) tend to translate into negative outcomes for marginalized groups. Justice seekers are denied access to the courts with the apparent goal of pushing them as close as possible to their original places in society.

But action isn’t limited to the Federalist Society. GOP senators have been doing their part. After gaining control of the Senate towards the end of Obama’s presidency, they blocked the president’s judicial nominees. The most high profile example was Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland but there were other individuals waiting for confirmations to lower-level courts. Vacancies on the bench piled up, now totaling 146. Trump is working to fill them.

There will be an impact on fights for equality in the courts, on Thurgood Marshall’s legacy. But since a part of that legacy is to never give up the fight, advocates inspired by him will continue to move forward. There will be efforts to prevent rollbacks in the rights of the historically marginalized groups. But creativity is also needed to envision whole new pathways towards realizing the promises guaranteed by the Constitution and the nation’s civil rights laws.

(Originally Posted on Extra Newsfeed on June 13, 2017)

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