Three Word Thursday, hosted by Quilly, is an excellent opportunity to resurrect useful words. I wanted to blog about something today that has been bugging me for a couple of days, so Three Word Thursday gives me the perfect opportunity! Sorry for the non-fiction approach. As most of you who read my blog know, I am a lawyer. And as a fairly idealistic one, I take assaults on the integrity of the law very personally.
On May 3, 2010, the front entrance to the Supreme Court was closed. A decision was made by people ‘smarter than us’ that the security threat those great front doors present is too great. The symbolism in this move cannot be overstated.
In England, up through the Edwardian period, only people of a certain social class were permitted to approach a home through its front entrance. Tradespeople and others of lower class were expected to ‘go around back’ to enter. This applied even to police officers. In the U.S., cruel laws, called “Jim Crow” dictated who could eat, sleep, sit, and even walk in certain areas of the public. And again, “go around back” was the order of the day. My children study this in school and cannot believe it was still the case in my lifetime. It floors them that it took the Supreme Court until 1967 to strike down Virginia’s law against interracial marriage in Loving vs. Virginia. But once the Jim Crow laws began to fall, dismantled by the U.S. Supreme Court, it was a tantivy conclusion the country reached – separate but equal was NOT equal and we must, as a nation, accept nothing less than EQUAL access to justice.
Supreme Courts of the U.S. have not always been at the forefront of courage. Decisions made in the interest of political expediency are painful to review. The Dred Scott decision and Plessy vs. Ferguson are shameful examples of knuckling under by men who should have shown more fortitude. After all, if the Supreme Court is afraid to uphold what is morally right, then what hope do the rest of us have?
The closing of the Supreme Court front doors for access is symbolic. You can be kicked out those doors, but you cannot enter through them. Ridiculous. Supreme Court buildings in much more dangerous places in the world (Pakistan, Israel), have not, despite many threats, closed their front doors. As countries move from totalitarianism to representative government, constructing their justice system modeled after ours, they have learned that the very legitimacy of the court rests on access to justice.
So now the great model for judicial authority, the U.S. Supreme Court, is running scared. It is interesting that the Supreme Court itself issued the decision (of course, with 2 dissents). Apparently it is within their discretion to do so. I do not know whether Congress or the President can override such a decision, although Congress could simply by using the power of the purse to either enhance the security arrangements or by stalling further appropriations until the doors are re-opened. But both of the other branches of government can certainly decry it. And have you heard the deafening silence?
And oh, irony of ironies…at the same time this imbroglio arose at the Supreme Court, the President was giving a commencement speech at University of Michigan. During the speech, one of the things he said was:
This democracy we have is a precious thing. For all the arguments and all the doubts and all the cynicism that's out there today, we should never forget that as Americans, we enjoy more freedoms and opportunities than citizens in any other nation on Earth. We are free to speak our mind and worship as we please. We are free to choose our leaders, and criticize them if they let us down. We have the chance to get an education, and work hard, and give our children a better life.
It sounds to me like he challenged those graduates and others among us, to get those doors opened back up. The decision to close the front doors of the U.S. Supreme Court for access is a delenda and we should be ashamed of it. I haven't figured out what my course of action should be. I'll start with prayer.