by Rev. Jesse Jackson
(Trice Edney Wire) – The right-wing gang of six justices on the Supreme Court ruled that affirmative action in university admissions at Harvard and the University of North Carolina violates the Constitution. Do not be fooled. This ruling is not limited to the elite universities that seek to ensure diversity in their student bodies. It is not limited to education. The right-wing majority on the Court is escalating war on the reconstruction that was launched by the civil rights movement.
The court ruled that race is a suspect category even when used to remedy discrimination.
This ruling will be invoked to reverse efforts to guarantee equal employment opportunity, to provide opportunity for minority contractors, to counter discriminatory housing restrictions, to challenge hate crimes motivated by race. With this ruling, the Court declares that it is not only blind to the systemic racism that still scars this nation, but hostile to efforts to remedy that racism, arguing that they offend the Constitution. As Justice Katanji Brown Jackson wrote in her blistering dissent, “this is a tragedy for us all.”
The decision of the gang of six, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, is only part of the Court’s assault on equal rights under the law. Roberts also penned the court decision in Shelby County v. Holder that gutted the Voting Rights Act — and has opened the gates to racially discriminatory election measures in dozens of states.
The right-wing justices are not acting alone. Across the country, an increasingly extremist Republican Party has made race-bait politics a centerpiece of its agenda. In Florida, for example, Gov. Ron DeSantis, now a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, has outlawed teaching the truth about America’s history of slavery. He has banned any diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. He is waging war on what he calls “woke” corporations that seek to defend equal rights under the law.
African Americans and Latinos are not the only target. The Civil Rights Reconstruction helped lay the groundwork for the expansion of rights for women, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, and the young. It is not accidental that the reactionary court majority now moves to overturn established law by terminating the right to abortion — and women’s control of their bodies. On Friday, it also established — again against all precedent — a First Amendment right to discriminate in a case aimed at refusing service to gay couples. That surely will lead to cases that test the right to refuse service to Blacks or Asians or Latinos. This Supreme Court would take us back to the days when young African Americans could be arrested for seeking to be served at a lunch counter.
We’ve suffered this form of brutal racial reaction before. After the “Second Founding” — the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments after the Civil War — this country began the first reconstruction, designed to ensure equal rights under the law to the newly liberated slaves.
That progress was met with fierce resistance from the plantation overlords that had profited from slave labor. The Ku Klux Klan unleashed a campaign of terror to smash the fusion coalitions that were beginning to grow, and to deprive Blacks of not only the vote but more generally of equal rights. Conservative justices on the Supreme Court embraced the new apartheid, ruling that “separate but equal” – in which the separation ensured that there was no equality — satisfied the Constitution. By the time they were finished, they had twisted the 14th Amendment designed to provide all with equal justice under the law to a corporate weapon against workers organizing to demand their rights in the workplace.
This Court’s right-wing majority would take us back to the days when store owners could refuse to serve minorities, when women had no rights, when gay marriage was a sin and against the law.
They will not succeed. We aren’t going back. They are tribunes of white privilege — cosseted by their circle of billionaires — standing against an increasingly diverse and proud people. They will not prevail — but only if people of conscience stand up, across lines of race, religion, region. The first Reconstruction led to a brutal reaction that imposed legal apartheid on this country for 100 years. We must not allow this new reaction to reverse our progress toward equal justice under the law.