Thurgood Marshall Law?
I wasn't all-that-crazy about Barack Obama's latest nomination for Supreme Court Justice. Elana Kagan is hardly the progressive firebrand that I was praying for. What was needed, I felt, was someone with the heavy duty, left-leaning gravitas of the late William O. Douglas - that court's last, true Liberal. What was desperately needed was a counterweight to the five right wing extremists who are now in the process of turning American democracy into a pile of shit. Still, she seems like a smart woman and is obviously quite learned in matters of constitutional import. Maybe she'll surprise us in much the same way Republican Earl Warren did so many years ago. I can dream, can't I?
Ms. Kagan's lack of Liberal gravitas notwithstanding, it sure was a scream watching Jeff Sessions yesterday expressing his innate terror over the possibility that she might turn out to be an out-of-control left-wing extremist. But what really had me amused was the worry he expressed about her connection to the late associate justice Thurgood Marshall. Not only had she clerked for him at one time, but (I hope you're sitting down) she actually admired him! Oh, Esther! Hand me my digitalis!
Thurgood Marshall??? Don't get me wrong; the man deserves credit for being a trailblazer. His role in the Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education case of 1954 - not to mention the fact that he was the first African American to serve on the high court - are more than enough to ensure his place in American history. But using Marshall as an example of an out-of-control, left wing ideologue is a bit of a stretch. Truth be told, he turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. While he was a fairly sensible moderate in most areas of jurisprudence, he was hardly the fire-breathing judicial activist that Sessions portrayed him to be during the confirmation hearings yesterday. What the hell was he thinking? Thurgood Marshall???
I have a theory that I'd like to bounce off you. Jeff Sessions is a senator from Alabama. In addition to being the state with the second highest obesity rate in the nation (Take a bow, Mississippi - YOU'RE NUMBER ONE!) Alabama has a bit of a - "history" shall we say? Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has a history as well. He was born on Christmas Eve 1946. This would have made him sixteen when all them "outside, commie agitators" were trying to integrate his beloved south. It's obvious that the man has somewhat of a problem with people who are not white. I suspect that if he wasn't actually there on the front lines, beating the bleeding mortal shit out of the Freedom Riders during the summer of 1963, I have no doubt that he was on the side lines cheering them on. Is this an unfair judgment on my part? Consider this: The following allegations were made against Sessions by some of his peers (who were under oath):
* He once referred to a white civil rights lawyer as a "disgrace to his race."
* On one occasion he referred a black coworker as "boy" and warned him against talking disrespectfully to white people.
* He routinely referred to the NAACP as "Un-American" and "Communist inspired".
It should also be remembered that he made his name as a U.S. attorney by prosecuting black people for voter fraud and once unsuccessfully persecuted a former aid to Martin Luther King on the same charge. You know the old adage: If it walks like a duck, it's a freaking duck. Senator Sessions is a racist of the worst order. He has never even tried to hide the fact.
Why he would accuse a wishy-washy centrist like Marshall of "legislating from the bench" might seem a mystery to some. Actually the answer is simpler than you may think. He has a deep-seated hatred, borne of generations of resentment, for the man who (more than any other man) was responsible for desegregating the school system of the deep south. To sixteen-year-old Jeff Sessions, the very idea of being forced - "by them Yankee bastards in Washington" - to sit in a classroom with "a buncha god damned niggers" was probably more than the poor boy could handle. Back in the good ol' days, Jeff and his fellow confederates-in-racial-hatred were all proud Democrats. They could never even contemplate joining the party of Abe Lincoln. That all changed when Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. By the end of the decade most of them had fled to the GOP like hounds on a coon hunt. The "solid south" was now and forever solidly Republican. And so it remains.
As President Johnson said at the time to his aides Jack Valenti and Bill Moyers, "We [the Democrats] have lost the south for a generation." It was an understatement. Say what you will about LBJ, the man had courage. But for the debacle of the Vietnam War he would today be remembered as the greatest president of the twentieth century. You broke my heart, Lyndon, but I still love you.
Since Arlen Spector's defection to the Democrats last year, Sessions is the highest ranking Republican member on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Isn't that a hoot? In 1986 he had his nomination to be a judge on the U.S. District Court of Alabama rejected because of his racist past. Are you ready for the punchline? The committee that blocked his nomination twenty-four years ago is the one he now heads. No, I'm not makin' this stuff up, folks - but I wish I was - I really do! Last week saw Joe Barton apologizing to British Petroleum. Next week will probably see Jeff Sessions apologizing to the Confederacy. Anyone care to make a little wager?
I must pause here to pay gentle tribute to Senator Robert Byrd who died early Tuesday morning at the age of ninety-two. He served in the Senate longer than any other person in history, having been elected in 1958 - the year I was born! Byrd's beginnings were auspicious to say the least. A former member of the KKK, he was an avowed and shameless segregationist. But the man evolved - and not for reasons of political expediency either. West Virginia doesn't have a high population of African Americans. So what happened to him? What caused him to change? It was a simple case of seeing the light. He grew - as a man and as a statesman. In 1982, when the senate was locked in a bitter debate whether or not to pass a bill that would make Dr. King's birthday a national holiday, he explained to reporters that, because of his unfortunate past, he had to be the first in line to support that bill. God bless him.
Does Jeff Sessions have the potential for that kind of growth? We can only hope - but don't hold your breath. He's no Robert Byrd.
Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency
by Senator Robert Byrd
Robert Byrd was one of the few who had the guts to take the Bush Mob head on. in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq. As historian David McCullough once said about Harry Truman, "He stands like a rock in history."