JUSTICE, A ‘four letter word’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the formation of ”a more perfect union,” the next national priority was to establish “justice.” But the American irony has been that, even after the Civil War, The judicial system has not been one of “equal justice under law.” From a racial standpoint, the system has been one dominated often by the unequal justice imposed upon African Americans.

In the criminal justice system the fact of one’s race sometimes has been a critical factor in determining whether prosecutions are initiated or terminated, whether the jury returned a verdict of guilty or not guilty, where the certain judicial instructions are given to the jury, where the witnesses are or are not believed, and in the determining the formulation of ultimate judicial rulings. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the issue of race has matter in a substantial number of cases. 

From The arrival on this continent in 1619 of the first shipment of African slaves, there have been many roads intersecting Freedom, indentured servitude, and slavery. Crossroads involves choices between equality and white supremacy, and between democracy and perceptions of black inferiority. After so many setbacks at so many intersections, African Americans have picked up their bags and tried, again and again, to go on the road in search of their rights as human beings. The struggle has always been to become equal citizens, to be included within the majesty of the phrase  “We the People.” African Americans and their allies have been at that pursuit for centuries and are still at it today.

The American Legal process has provided sign posts in the form of constitutions, amendments to Constitution, legislative enactments, and judicial decisions, not all of which have pointed the nation towards the whole or destination of blacks as free, full, and equal participants in the whole American society. Rather, those signposts have sometimes led African-Americans down a circuitous path, starting from when they were perceived as not different from cattle. moving up from the status of being considered less than human, African Americans Later viewed as lower caste, untouchables, second- class” persons”; then as civil rights crusaders and challengers in the federal courts, which in turn became more supportive during the second half of this Century to enforce the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. Now, African Americans constitute a multi-faceted minority. It is irrational to preffer [choose] a monolithic description of their status. They occupy a vest continuum. At one end, some, such as the author of this volume, now have the benefits of substantial equality and have been upwardly mobile. In contrast, at the other end, there continues to be pervasive and unfathomable in-equality for many African Americans.

In all the official pictures of the Supreme Court, there is an image suggested, by their very setting, that the nine justices in black robes are exceptional individuals who ensure “Equal justice under law.” the phrase chiseled on the portals of the Supreme Court  but in the long  corridor of history , from an African American’s perspective, at times these saintly appearing justices, by their unnecessary legitimization of racism, have caused  far more systematic cruelty and grief to African Americans then the hooded vigilanties wearing white sheets and the emblem of the Klu Klux Klan. Many more millions of African Americans were denied the benefits of first class citizenship by the Supreme Court’s opinion in Plessy vs Ferguson and other related cases than by all of the mechanisms of the Klu Klux Klan.

In 1857, in Dred Scott versus Sanford, declared that ”At the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted, blacks had no rights which the white man was bound to respect. Two justices, John McLean Benjamin Curtis dissented. 

Seven Justices who decided Plessy vs Ferguson in 1896, legitimize under federal law the concept of treating black people differently and more adversely than everyone else- a concept described as”separate but equal,” but which in practice ultimately became a racist system that was almost always separate and always unequal.

In 1954 Brown vs Board of Education one of the most historic civil rights cases of the century, declared a doctrine that would have eradicated most of the routes of slavery jurisprudence that had persisted long after the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth  and Fifteenth Amendments 

In 1993, in Shaw vs Reno, justice announced a new voting rights rationale that would cause a dramatic reduction of pluralism in the United States Congress through the elimination of 10-17 African-American and Latino members. 

Most of these cases the Supreme Court was at critical crossroads and could have decided the case either way. Dred Scott and Plessy, were devastating defeats for African Americans and, in the long run, significant setbacks for all Americans.

On not being certain how far the pendulum of the current Supreme Court will swing, the Supreme Court, the President, and the Congress will have an extraordinary impact in determining whether our nation has significantly more or significantly less racial Justice in the 21st century. 

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