By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 08, 2018
“An increasingly diverse society no longer accepts the God-given right of white males from the right families to run things, and a society with many empowered, educated women is finally rejecting the droit de seigneur once granted to powerful men.”
—Paul Krugman, New York Times
Yesterday the U.S. Senate elected Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court by the narrowest of margins despite the objections of 2,400+ law professors and Justice John Paul Stevens, former justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Stevens noted: “He’s a fine federal judge, and he should have been confirmed when he was nominated. But I think that his performance during the hearings caused me to change my mind” (New York Times, October 5).
Outsiders looking at the state of affairs within American society may be shocked by the Senate vote and the behavior of Judge Kavanaugh. They need not worry. It might simply be a case of history repeating itself. White men still rule the roost; minorities and women be damned.
The Supreme Court first met on February 2, 1790, two years after the U.S. Constitution was ratified. It took almost two centuries before the first African-American was named to the Court (Thurgood Marshall in 1967); a further 14 years before the first woman (Sandra Day O’Connor 1981) was named; and another 18 years before a Hispanic woman (Sonia Sotomayor) joined that happy brotherhood of white men. In other words, up until 1967, the U.S. Senate was an all-male white men’s club.
The Supreme Court is not only sexist, it is racist as well. In 1857, in the Dred Scott decision, Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, ruled that African Americans were and could never be citizens of the United States. He also ruled that when the constitution was adopted blacks were “regarded as being of an inferior order” with “no rights the white man was bound to respect.”
Hugo Black was appointed to the Supreme Court on August 17, 1937. He had a rocky confirmation hearing. On September 13, Ray Spingle exposed Black’s KKK past in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
On October 1, Black delivered a short radio address to the nation that acknowledged his past association with the KKK. Unlike Kavanaugh’s 11th hour appeal to wavering senators via the Wall Street Journal (anyone could have seen through his artifice) Black apologized for his past behavior and served with distinction for 41 years.
Judge Kavanaugh was accused of sexual indiscretions. I listened attentively to Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimony. I was riveted by Ford’s testimony. I believed her story in spite of her lapses in memory. Kavanaugh turned out to be the bully he has always been. He was petulant, rude and obnoxious.
Many viewers failed to discern the judicial temperament that one expects from a member of the U.S. highest court. The 2,400+ law professors took particular exception to Judge Kavanaugh’s obnoxious behavior. They concluded: “Instead of trying to sort out with reason and care the allegations that were raised, Judge Kavanaugh responded in an intemperate, inflammatory and partial manner, as he interrupted and, at times, was discourteous to the senators.”
In the aftermath of this sordid affair, Chuck Grassley, the Majority Leader of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accused the Democrats of “encouraging mob rule.” Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, bemoaned the damage this hearing did to the Senate and the Supreme Court.
Those of us who have followed these proceedings were not surprised by their virulence and the power that white men in the Senate, particularly the 11 white men in the Senate Judiciary Committee, displayed. Grassley said there are few women on the latter committee “because it’s a lot of work.”
Paul Krugman argued that the Kavanaugh hearings drove home the fact that “white male rage isn’t restricted to blue-collar guys in diners. It is also present among people who’ve done very well in life’s lottery, whom you would consider very much a part of the elite.”
He continues: “What distinguishes Trump voters was, instead, racial resentment. Furthermore, this resentment was and is driven not by actual economic losses at the hands of minority groups, but by the fear of losing status in a changing country, one in which the privilege of being a white man isn’t what it used to be” (New York Times, October 1).
Sadly, most white men hit out only in blind rage (as was the case of Judge Kavanaugh when he addressed the Judiciary Committee on October 25) when their privilege is threatened. Theirs is the power to command and control; monarchs of all they survey; none can dispute their rights. (William Cowper).
When Marshall, the grandson of an enslaved man became a member of the Supreme Court, he took his oath of office from Black, a former member of the KKK. Marshall understood the symbolic value of such a gesture. Black also understood the powerful message such a gesture sent to Americans.
It takes the humble and the meek to assert our common humanity. Donald Trump and Kavanaugh can never make the gestures that Black and Marshall made. In their stubbornness, they will take America back to a place from which Americans, for over two hundred years, have striven to free themselves.
How long, O Lord, must we cry unto thee?