Friday, May 29, 2009

Sotomayor vs. SCOTUS: Revisiting Race and the Courts

Over the last few days, conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Gordon Liddy, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich have taken to the airwaves to accuse Judge Sotomayer of being a racist. Representative Tom Tancredo intimated that her membership in the group La Raza was enough to prove that she was in fact a racist. Former Speaker Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh have gone so far as to say that Judge Sotomayer should be forced to withdraw her nomination due to her alleged racism. They each went on to commit the cardinal sin of equivalence

Newt Gingrich tweeted a message to his followers which read: "White man racist would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw."

Rush Limbaugh told his listeners, "She brings a form of bigotry or racism to the court," Limbaugh said, later adding: "How can a president nominate such a candidate? And how can a party get behind such a candidate? That's what would be asked if somebody were foolish enough to nominate David Duke or pick somebody even less offensive."

...Oh really?

While I believe the charges against Judge Sotomayer to be preposterous, I won't use this space to offer my limited defense... certainly the confirmation hearings will bear out the truth. But I would like to challenge the false equivalencies suggested by Speaker Gingrich and Limbaugh; particularly the claim that a White male nominee who was a racist would be forced to withdraw from consideration.

The claim itself seems so ridiculous that I can only assume that perhaps Speaker Gingrich and Limbaugh have forgotten what racism from the bench actually looks like; so I've put together this little primer... Consider these pearls from former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice William Rehnquist:

Wrote memorandum supporting Plessy v. Ferguson. 
In Plessy the Court endorsed state supported segregation and established that Jim Crow “separate but equal” principle was constitutional. Chief Justice Rehnquist served as a clerk to Justice Robert Jackson. The memo “A Random Thought on the Segregation Cases” advised Justice Jackson to affirm Plessy in future segregation cases, including Brown v. Board of Education. The memo stated “I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by my ‘liberal’ colleagues, but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed.”

Justice Rehnquist wrote a proposed constitutional amendment designed to limit the enforcement of Brown v. Board of education
According to Justice Rehnquist, the amendment was designed to permit northern schools to preserve de facto segregation through “neighborhood schools.”  Justice Rehnquist believed the amendment would allow gerrymandering of schools districts even if the neighborhood plan was “adopted by the local school board at least partly because they would make some schools largely white, and others largely black.”

Wrote memorandum endorsing Texas’ “Whites Only” Primaries
Terry v. Adams was case about the rights of blacks to vote in a “private” Texas primary. Justice Rehnquist while clerking for Justice Jackson wrote in a memo “I take a dim view of this pathological search for discrimination. . . and as a result I now have a mental block against the case.”  In a second memo he wrote: “The Constitution does not prevent the majority from banding together, nor does it attaint success in the effort.  It is about time the Court faced the fact that the white people of the south don’t like the colored people: the constitution restrains them from effecting thru (sic) state action but it most assuredly did not appoint the Court as a sociological watchdog to rear up every time private discrimination raises its admittedly ugly head.”           

Owned property containing restrictive covenants barring the sale of his property to nonwhites and Jews.  
 Justice Rehnquist, a sophisticated lawyer, professed ignorance of the restrictive covenant.   

Voted to grant Bob Jones University tax exempt status
Blacks students could enroll at the school but only if they were married to other blacks or promised not to date or marry outside the black race.   Bob Jones University applied for tax exempt status and was denied.  Bob Jones University sued to restore its tax exemption and won.  The case then went before the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Court in a 8-1 decision held that the university’s policy violated deeply accepted views of elementary justice and that it could not enjoy tax exempt status.  The Supreme Court, Chief Justice Burger, held that nonprofit private schools that prescribe and enforce racially discriminatory admission standards on the basis of religious doctrine do not qualify as tax‑exempt organizations under the Internal Revenue Code, nor are contributions to such schools deductible as charitable contributions.  The sole dissenter was, you guessed it, Justice William Rehnquist.

Rehnquist's Record
Chief Justice Rehnquist further distinguished himself by voting against minorities in EVERY Civil Rights case that came before the Court in his 30 year tenure. 


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