As President Biden and Democratic leaders express their discontent and abhorrence about the Supreme Court’s decision to ban race-based consideration for college admissions, it would be disingenuous for them to suggest they did not see this coming and failed to prevent it from happening. There is no way Donald Trump should have appointed three justices to the Supreme Court. Yet, Democrats’ lackluster performance in the 2016 Presidential election could have easily been avoided. After Republicans denied President Barack Obama a chance to nominate Merrick Garland, Democrats failed to capitalize on Supreme Court nominations as a potent issue despite overwhelming public opinion in their favor.
I used “themselves” instead of “ourselves.” I adopted the sentiments of Will Rogers long ago, who said: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Early in my voting experience, like my dad, I registered as a Republican. However, being a Republican in Brooklyn, New York, rendered one politically impotent. Winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to winning the general election, so I switched parties. I remain a Democrat because, despite significant flaws, they continue to be our best hope for constructive policy change. Most voters (49%) identify as political independents.
Social workers must be engaged in the political arena where our values, concerns for vulnerable people, and evidenced-based policy ideas can help shape the future of our society. We cannot leave the future to lawyers, economists, public policy professionals, or either party. Republicans have no policies, particularly at the federal level. Their mantra is to let everyone fend for themselves, lest the poor become too dependent, and we constrain corporate greed and limit profits and wealth. Democrats, who sometimes lean too far in the other direction—my God, that’s socialism—seem clueless about communicating with the public. Our profession must put as much effort into shaping policy and society as we do in helping people to cope with it.
I get ill every time I read that Clarence Thomas and his conservative colleagues on the Court are originalists, that they are interpreting constitutionality according to the Framers’ intent. When the Framers, as wise as they were, set out to construct a functioning society, they were not trying to construct a functioning multiracial society. Neither were they trying to construct a society wherein women would participate as fully as men. Limiting our thinking to what they knew then is asinine.
Justice Thomas brings an interesting perspective to the Supreme Court. A revealing piece in the New Yorker describes young Clarence Thomas embracing black nationalism and separation of the races. He opposed interracial sex and marriage until he met Virginia Lamp, whom he married in 1986. He idolized Malcolm X and supported the Black Panther Party, replicating a free breakfast program in Worcester, MA, while a College of the Holy Cross student. He described himself not as a liberal but as a radical. He carried those feelings to Yale Law School, where he believed he had to prove himself constantly to his liberal white patrons and fellow students. He benefited from affirmative action, and the experience made him bitter.
Contrary to my stereotypical assessment of Thomas as a self-hating negro with an inferiority complex, reading this helps me to understand better, if not approve of, his views on affirmative action. I think he wants black people to comprehend what they are up against. He believes anti-affirmative action was the original intent, which remains dominant in our society. Permitting a few select students to attend prestige universities does not recalibrate inequities in America. I share similar feelings about DEI if it means placing people of color in high-level positions to demonstrate commitment to social change. Then it is nothing more than window dressing.
None of this changes my assessment of Clarence Thomas as a supporter of the status quo and one who blocks progress on many fronts other than racial issues. To interpret the law based on his personal experiences is a bridge too far. It should be about what is best for the nation. Read Eric Foner’s The Second Founding to discover the many interpretations of the 14th Amendment. The contrived suspense leading up to the Supreme Court’s decisions on affirmative action and canceling student debt was a farce. We knew how the six conservative justices would vote months ago. It was just a matter of them fine-tuning their justification.