When The Supreme Court Goes Too Far and How To Overcome It

     In 1856 and again in 1857, the Supreme Court heard arguments about an enslaved man brought by his owner to a free state.  He claimed his freedom, but the court ruled that African-Americans could never be citizens and therefore had no right to the protection of law.  Dred Scott was deemed a "piece of property" and returned to his supposed owner in the South.

     A few years later, the Civil War overturned this dreadful ruling.  I think it's important to keep historical passages like this in mind, as we enter an era when the court may rule against important civil rights gain of the last half century.  Justices can also change their opinions when they are on the court.  Hugo Black, a member of the Ku Klux Klan and an opponent of equal rights for blacks in his early years, evolved into a staunch defender of civil liberties, even though he did justify the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II.  Chief Justice John Roberts recently cited this case, saying that it was nothing like the third Muslim ban, which his court recently upheld.  I, and many others, think it was, since it blocks large groups based on race, religion, or nationality.  But situations and justices can change.

     In addition, the Supreme Court does not necessarily have the final word.  Years ago, I argued with an Englishman who declared that we "had government by court."  The people are the basis of our government.  If Congress passes a law against a Supreme Court decision, the law prevails unless the Court can and does declare it unconstitutional.  It's important to remember this in difficult times.

     And if we think our times are difficult, let's remember earlier eras.  Ernestine Rose continued to fight against slavery before and after the Dred Scott decision.  She succeeded in that fight, but did not live long enough to see women get the right to vote.  In this regard, I highly recommend a wonderful anthology which appeared last year: We The Resilient: Wisdom for Americans from Women Born Before Suffrage.  The editors Sarah Bunin Benor and Tom Fields-Meyer interviewed 78 women from all races, ethnicities and classes about their lives, first before the 2016 election, and then after.  They all recommended persisting in your ideals.  They had lived through the Great Depression, the second world war, McCarthyism, etc. and they maintained that important struggles can be won if we don't give up.  They advise courage, hope, humor, keeping on, and knowing that conditions will change.  They provide inspiration for today to continue working for our beliefs.