Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Hot Topics" at Lourdes Lifelong Leaning: The Supreme Court and Race

Loryn Clauson talks about the Constitution, the Supreme Court
 and Race at Lourdes Lifelong Learning Program. The tile (upper right)
leading to Franciscan Center honors "E Pluribus Unum."
The popular "Hot Topics" luncheon series at Lourdes University's Lifelong Learning program last week featured "The U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court and Race." 

Loryn Clauson, who studies Constitutional Law, was the speaker.  She did a great job of presenting the key cases and making a complex subject understandable.  She began by reminding us that two current cases before the High Court demonstrate the ongoing relevance of this long legal tradition.  Schuette (Michigan's Attorney General) v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, for example, is considering the constitutionality of a voter ban against affirmative action, and Shelby County v. Holder considered the constitutionality of parts of the Voting Rights Act.

Loryn took us through the history of Supreme Court cases dealing with race, including:
* Dred Scott, 1857, which said Slaves were not citizens and had no right to vote
* The 14TH amendment case that reversed Dred Scott and ruled Blacks were citizens.
* Plessy v. Ferguson, which sanctioned "Separate but Equal."
* Brown v. the Topeka (Kansas) Board of Education, which reversed Plessy and ruled that "separate was not equal."
* Allan Bakke vs. the Regents of the University of California, 1978,  a ruling on Affirmative Action and "reverse discrimination."

The social milieu of the times and the make up of the Court certainly have a lot to do with how the laws are interpreted.  A Roger Taney court, just before the Civil War, dominated by Southerners, interpreted the U.S. Constitution one way; the Warren Burger court, to which Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice, was appointed, another; and the modern Court still another.  The Supreme Court, in other words, can both reflect the times and also help shape them. 

Rule of Law is a fundamental concept in our democracy, and it has served to anchor our society and provide stability. Not without controversy, of course, but with general public regard for the law and the "balance of power."  America is a "work in progress," and interpretations of the laws, debates about whether or not they are Constitutional, and our ever-changing climate of public opinion on any given issue overtime, reflect this.  The founding fathers, Loryn said, were aware of this, and created the third branch of government, the Judiciary, as a countervailing balance of powers with the Executive and Legislative branches.  They were also wise enough to leave the U.S. Constitution vague in some ways that were open to interpretation.

The Supreme Court, it seems, as staunchy as it might appear, will always be a "hot topic."

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