Just days after officially taking her seat on the Supreme Court bench on Friday, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is already crushing it. On her second day of oral arguments, the highest court’s newest member gave Alabama Solicitor General, Edmund LaCour, a much-needed lesson on the 14th Amendment, destroying the 37-year-old’s argument that the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause was “race-blind” and that the state’s redistricting map should stand.
“I don’t think we can assume that just because race is taken into account that that necessarily creates an equal protection problem, because I understood that we look at the history and traditions of the Constitution, at what the framers and the founders thought about,” Justice Brown Jackson told LaCour.
Edmund is challenging Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act – which bars racial discrimination in a state’s voting policies.
In January of this year, a three-panel lower court – including two judges appointed by former President Donald Trump – ruled that Alabama’s 2021 redistricting map was “likely a violation of the law,” Yahoo News reported. The order to redraw the voting map would bring the number of majority Black districts to two out of the seven – up from one – closer to reflecting the state’s Black population which is a little less than 30%.
The three cases before the federal court – Singleton v. Merrill, Caster v. Merrill, and Milligan v. Merrill – sought an injunction against the gerrymandered map being used in future elections, according to Democracy Docket.
“The Singleton plaintiffs argue that the enacted map is a racial gerrymander that violates the 14th Amendment because race was used as the predominant factor in drawing lines without a compelling reason; the Caster plaintiffs argue that the enacted map violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) because a second majority-Black district should have been drawn.”
The former District Court Judge and protege of former Justice Stephen Breyer gave the unprepared LaCour a lesson in “doing your research,” citing the founders’ own words.
“It became clear to me the framers themselves adopted the equal protection clause – the 14th amendment, the 15th amendment – in a race-conscious way. That they were in fact trying to insure that people who had been discriminated against – the Freedmen – during the Reconstruction period were actually brought equal to everyone else in society. So I looked at the report that was submitted by the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, which drafted the 14th amendment, and that report says that the entire point of the amendment was to secure rights of the freed former slaves,” Justice Brown Jackson said.
The Supreme Court put a “freeze” on the lower court’s ruling, despite the federal judges’ decision that redrawing the districts was warranted due to Alabama’s history of systemic voter suppression.
“The court held that voting in Alabama is ‘intensely racially polarized,’ meaning that white voters often vote as a bloc to overcome Black voters,” Democracy Docket wrote.
The three-panel judiciary went on to say:
“Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress.”
However, the Supreme Court disagreed.
Justice Brown Jackson pointed out that it was the legislator who introduced the 14th amendment who warned of what could happen if there was no oversight of states with a history of keeping newly freed Black Americans from the polls and wrote “Unless the Constitution should restrain them, those states will all, I fear, keep up this discrimination and crush to death the hated freedmen.”
“Importantly, when there was concern that the Civil Rights Amendment wouldn’t have a constitutional foundation – that’s when the 14th amendment came into play,” Justice Brown Jackson explained.
The Supreme Court’s first Black justice added to the framer’s assertion, “That’s not a race-neutral, or race-blind idea in terms of the remedy,” she said.
The Solicitor General maintains that the order to create a second majority Black district is racist, saying that “Alabama conducted its 2021 redistricting in a lawful, race-neutral manner.” Adding, “The only way to add a second majority-minority district to Alabama’s plan is to make race the non-negotiable criterion,” per the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on Tuesday.
In the type of response that we’d like to expect from a member of the nation’s highest court, Justice Brown Jackson responded with the truth and preserved the integrity of the founders’ intention:
“I don’t think that the historical record establishes that the founders believed that race neutrality or race blindness was required. They drafted the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which specifically stated that citizens would have the same civil rights enjoyed by White citizens – that’s the point of that act, to make sure that the other citizens, the Black citizens, would have the same as the White citizens so they recognized that there was unequal treatment that people based on their race were being treated unequally,” the justice stated.
But when it comes to the Handmaid’s Court, nothing is a sure thing – especially when it comes to protecting the rights of marginalized communities. Regardless, the Court’s newest justice is a reminder that diversity, inclusion, and integrity matter. Amy Coney Barrett and Aileen Cannon can learn a thing or two.
Listen to Justice Brown Jackson below.
Just relistened to this and I can't overstate how big a deal this perspective + arguments are on the Supreme Court. Quoting original sources she dug up to show the 14th Amendment was not race neutral.
This kind of thing is a major threat to conservative judicial philosophy. https://t.co/yJwZAhb2Cn
— Danny Rivero (@TooMuchMe) October 4, 2022
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