The Real Question to Ask About Our Supreme Court: Why?

Maybe I have missed it, but in all the many pages and web pages I have read on the Supreme Court and its decisionmaking over the last couple of weeks, I have yet to see any serious discussion of its highly undemocratic reality and operation. The bigger question beyond recent decisions about health care or immigration, or even about the conservative power on the court or that power’s undemocratic and often anti-progressive decisions, is why “we the people” allow, and have always allowed, such an undemocratic body to have so much power over our country. This the part of the discussion about this court that I offer in my new book, White Party, White Government (Routledge 2012):

Yet another undemocratic political institution–in addition to the U.S. Senate and the electoral college–created by the white male founders is the U.S. Supreme Court. Intentionally created as an unelected body with little democratic overview, over time the Court has gained even greater unsupervised political power, much of it in effect legislative. In an early and unanimous Court decision (Marbury v. Madison), the Supreme Court justices, led by Chief Justice John Marshall, decided the Court had the power of final judicial review, a legal theory that allows the Court to decide whether congressional legislation is constitutional, thereby allowing a few unelected justices to invalidate legislation by the more representative U.S. House.

Only the elite Supreme Court has the power to regularly interpret, and in effect periodically amend, the Constitution by a majority vote. In this way, the Supreme Court (and often other high federal courts) can legislate without needing the consent of the legislative branch, while the latter’s legislation is always subject to a judicial veto. Indeed, the Supreme Court has vetoed congressional legislation some two dozen times as unconstitutional and, even more often, interpreted congressional legislation so as to weaken or destroy the congressional intent behind that legislation.

Almost all such eviscerating decisions have been made by the Court in the interests of some segment of the ruling elite. As analyst Richard Kluger has noted, across the world “no other government reserves the last word for the judiciary to pronounce.”

Unmistakably, the elite founders intended for most important changes in the U.S. Constitution to be in the hands of elite white male judges, and not even in the hands of a majority of white male voters. For most of U.S. history a majority of the Supreme Court justices were southern slaveholders, segregationists, or judges sympathetic to the latter’s views. From the 1790s to the 1950s, the all-white, all-male Supreme Court was very important in protecting the extensive system of racial oppression dominating the lives of Americans of color, most especially slavery and Jim Crow segregation.

And here is what I am adding in a new edition of my white racial frame book:

As of 2012, a total of just 112 people, 108 men and 4 women, have ever served as powerful Supreme Court justices. More than 97 percent have been white, and 93 percent have been white men. Given this extremely biased demographic reality, the dominance of a strong male-oriented (patriarchal) version of the white racial frame in many U.S. court decisions and in much U.S. law, now over more than two centuries, is certainly unsurprising.

Such data signal, among other things, how disingenuous and racism-evasive so much white male complaining about “loss of power” in the US today really is.

And we have been, and are, a “democracy”? Rule by all the people, really?

Herman Cain: African American Voters Too “Brainwashed”



On CNN, Herman Cain offered strong words against the African American community. Cain, a 2012 Republican presidential candidate and former CEO of Godfather Pizza, says African Americans are “simply brainwashed,” “not open-minded,” and “opposed to GOP ideals.” He asserts he is experiencing vitriolic attacks against his messages because he is a black Republican and has been liberated from the Democratic plantation.

Cain, obsessed with “getting off the Democratic plantation,” has turned a blind eye to modern day Republicans’ quest to destroy what America stands for: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as birthrights of all U.S. citizens. Today’s Republican Party is not the “Party of Lincoln” that opposed aristocracy and corruption, but the Party has been pulled to the extreme right by the adamantine Tea Party, an extreme anti-government group with an ax to grind.

Given Cains’ disposition toward the Democratic Party, there are explanations why African Americans become Republicans. First, black conservatives, like Cain, see capitalism as the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” for black economic liberation and urge them to forge close business ties with white business leaders (See Manning Marable, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America, 1983, p. 182).

Second, black conservatives challenge race-based social programs that encourage black dependency on welfare and believe their views that encourage self-help programs by and of African Americans are given scant attention by the dominate liberal media.

Third, black conservatives insist that African Americans can succeed in American society on their own and argue that the racial caste system will no longer divide the races. Fourth, black conservatives blame big government solutions and liberal initiatives for economically weakening the black community. Last, black conservatives embrace limited government in the lives of the American people, but have acted contrary to this philosophy.

When the GOP was given a sweeping victory in the 2010 elections, the Party was given control of the U. S. House of Representatives and the majority of governorships. The Party did not use its power to create jobs and pass legislation that would help revive the economy. Instead, the Party gave the American people culture-war legislation that interfered with women’s rights, union stripping, Sharia Law; and voter suppression laws that disenfranchise vulnerable minority groups, students, and the elderly, limiting their access to the ballot box. In support of the GOP agenda, corporate conservatives have been corrupting the American democracy with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, an organization that Koch Industries and other notable large corporations financially support to diminish the civil rights of average American citizens.

Herman Cain sees the Republican Party as a one-way ticket off the 21st century Democratic plantation and uses the media to make a case for disassociating himself from an oppressive black history he cannot elude.

New Committee Head in Congress with Antiblack Agenda?



Over at Dailykos.com, Joan MacCarter has an interesting blog post on the new white head of the House judiciary subcommittee on immigration, citizenship, refugees, border security and international law–Representative Steve King of Iowa. He is the one who recently referred to President Obama as “ very very urban” in connection with the black farmers compensation (for severe discrimination) program. She notes King’s clear antiblack, antipoor agenda:

In an interview with local western Iowa radio station KCIM, King discussed the oversight efforts that the new GOP House would undertake. First and foremost, he said, would be his pet cause of investigating ACORN — which no longer exists as a national organization, but whose activists at the state level could be targeted. “And there’ll be other investigations looking into the Pigford farms issue,” King added, “which I think is full of fraud, that’s — what it amounts to is paying reparations to black farmers in America. We don’t do reparations in America.”

King has previously attacked the settlement for discrimination in past decades by the Department of Agriculture as “slavery reparations.”

Actually, among other things, King is revealing his illiteracy in regard to recent US governmental history, which includes federal monetary reparations to Japanese Americans for their racist-motivated imprisonment in US concentration camps during World War II and reparations in Florida by the state legislature–to black Americans who survived the Rosewood, Florida massacre at the hands of white mobs. Rep. King has also asserted that, in regard to the black farmers compensation program:

The fraudulent claims might be, well Johnny, yeah he was raised on a farm but he wouldn’t help his dad. He went to the city, became a drug addict, and when Daddy needed the help, Johnny wouldn’t come and help his daddy. But now his daddy’s died and Johnny wants the $50,000 that comes from the USDA under this claim.

It appears that at least one arch-conservative member of the new U.S. Congress with a head full of white racist framing of black Americans and a clear antiblack agenda is now in control of an important congressional committee – in our supposedly “postracial society.” I wonder if optimistic books by social scientists (for example, by John Hartigan here) and other commentators asserting or speculating that Obama’s election was bringing “a new era in U.S. race relations” and “dramatic changes in white racial perceptions” will now be revised to show that such optimism was not warranted. Or maybe too few of these social science and media commentators actually looked at the extensive field research on systemic racism before they wrote about such trendy optimistic commentaries and predictions.

Racist and Homophobic Attacks on Members of Congress: What Next?



The racist and homophobic, and sometimes violent, explosion by the almost all white teabaggers seems to have accelerated, according to this McClatchy newspapers story:

Demonstrators outside the U.S. Capitol, angry over the proposed health care bill, shouted “nigger” Saturday at U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia congressman and civil rights icon who was nearly beaten to death during an Alabama march in the 1960s…. Lewis said he was leaving the Cannon office building to walk to the Capitol to vote when protesters shouted “Kill the bill, kill the bill,” Lewis said. … A colleague who was accompanying Lewis said people in the crowd responded by saying “Kill the bill, then the N-word.” . . . “It was a chorus,” Cleaver said. “In a way, I feel sorry for those people who are doing this nasty stuff – they’re being whipped up. I decided I wouldn’t be angry with any of them.” Cleaver’s office said later in a statement that he’d also been spat upon and that Capitol Police had arrested his assailant.

Gay members are also being attacked:

Protesters also used a slur as they confronted Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., an openly gay member of Congress. … Frank said the crowd consisted of a couple of hundred of people and that they referred to him as ‘homo.’ A writer for The Huffington Post said the protesters called Frank a “faggot.”

The fact that so much of this racist, homophobic, and/or violent rhetoric and action has easily take place in and around the Capitol building suggests how pro-conservative so much of the leadership of this country has become. Where is the speaking out against this extremist activity by conservatives of integrity? Will we see assaults on members of congress soon from these extremist groups?

Indeed, it is also striking how seldom the whiteness of these extremist movements is seriously analyzed in the mainstream media. Whites usually seem to be let off the hook when they are operating out of extreme versions of the white racial frame and/or the extreme anti-government frame. I feel sure that if they were black Americans or other Americans of color, that reality would be centered in a good many stories. What do you think?

Racist Attacks on President Obama: Early and Often

A blogger over at DailyKos (blackwaterdog) has raised a question I have been thinking about for nearly a year now. How is President Obama being treated differently than other presidents and leading white politicians?

He first notes the differential treatment by the mass media in regard to President Obama’s intense and innovative meeting this week with Republicans:

With anyone else, CNN wouldn’t dare go to commercials every time the president speaks, like they did during that summit on Thursday. They wouldn’t dare counting how many minutes George Bush or Bill Clinton were talking. Chris Mathews wouldn’t dare making an issue out of Ronald Regan calling members of congress by their first name. . . .They fully cooperate with the Right-Wing smear machine when it comes to president Obama’s national security performance – even if almost every independent and military expert actually thinks that he’s a terrific Commander in Chief.

Presidente saluda de puño a trabajador
Creative Commons License photo credit: Embajada de Estados Unidos en Bolivia

Not just the white supremacists and extreme rightists have constantly quibbled about or directly disrespected our President:

On Thursday, almost every Republican had no trouble interrupting him in the middle of a sentence. They looked like they’re going to vomit every time they had to say “Mr. president”

Much has been made in various media about Obama being “professorish” and/or “arrogant,” but clearly this is a stereotyped way of putting down his distinctive intelligence and grasp of the facts on many issues, including health care. Many folks accuse him too of being

elitist (because he uses big words that they don’t understand). He is weak on national security (because he actually thinks about the consequences). He divides the country (well, he did that the day he had the audacity to win the election). Worst of all, he actually thinks that he’s the president.

The racist imaging has obviously come from the far right wing and white supremacists, but some criticism is also coming from the white left, which can be seen in the left political blogs:

. . . there’s also some hidden and maybe subconscious and disturbing underline tone behind some of the things . . . throughout the Left blogosphere…. “He’s weak, he’s spineless, he’s got no balls, primary him in 2012.”

Adia and I predicted some of this attack in our Yes We Can? Book, but it is already clear that we need to add a chapter to that book on how quickly and severe these attacks have become, and not much more than a year into his pathbreaking Presidency. What do you make of the many attacks on President Obama so far?

Racism at Play in Congressional Ethics Probes?

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) is now under investigation for ethics violations.  Waters, who is African American and one of the most progressive members of Congress, has been added to the growing list of members of Congress being investigated for possible violations by the House Ethics Committee, including Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York).  The House Ethics Committee is predominantly white, although it does have one African-American member, G.K. Butterlfield (D-North Carolina).  While that fact in and of itself doesn’t suggest racism may be at play in these ethics probes, another fact does.   All active ethics investigation are of black lawmakers.  There is not a single white lawmaker under investigation.  It’s not that white lawmakers have not been suspected of ethics violations.  They have.

According to a document leaked to The Washington Post in late October of this year, nearly three dozen lawmakers have come under scrutiny this year by either the House Ethics Committee or the Office of Congressional Ethic (OCE)i. While the list contained a substantial number of white lawmakers, the ethics committee has not yet launched formal investigative subcommittees of any of the white lawmakers — as it has with the seven African-American members.   Black lawmakers can be “easy targets” for ethics watchdog groups because they have less money — both personally and in their campaign accounts (which can be used to pay members’ legal bills) — to defend themselves than do their white colleagues.

A story by John Bresnahan at Politico.com (which originally ran this story on Nov.4, 2009) quotes an aide to a senior black Democrat saying:

“It is kind of crazy. How can it be that the ethics committee only investigates African-Americans? It doesn’t make sense.”

Crazy, indeed, especially given the kinds of shenanigans that white lawmakers have been involved in, such as Tom DeLay.  Currently, a number of white lawmakers — including senior House Appropriations Committee members John Murtha (D-Pa.), Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) — have drawn the attention of the committee and the OCE.   The two congressional ethics watchdogs are looking into these members’ ties to the PMA Group, a now-defunct lobbying firm that won tens of millions of dollars in earmarks from members of the Appropriations Committee. The lawmakers who arranged for the earmarks received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from PMA’s lobbying clients.  The Politico.com article says it seems unlikely that the PMA case will become the subject of a full-blown ethics committee investigation. The Justice Department is also looking into the PMA allegations; the FBI raided PMA’s office last year, and Visclosky and his former chief of staff have been served with document subpoenas. And under ethics committee rules, the panel cannot conduct an investigation of any member or staffer already being probed by a law enforcement agency.

While racism is likely not the only factor operating here – we are, after all, talking about the bloodsport of beltway politics – it seems more than plausible that racism is one of the factors contributing to a racially disparate pursuit of ethics violations among lawmakers.