“Better the wheels of government should stop … demonstrate itself to be a failure and find an end … than our principles, our honor be infringed upon — we have right, justice and the ‘King of Kings’ on our side.”
If this sounds as though it came from the mouth of a Republican congressman this past week, many of whom refused to hold a confirmation hearing on anyone President Obama might name to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court — let alone even meet with any presumptive nominee — well, it did not.
Rather, these words flowed from the quill of E.W. Marshall, a well-established South Carolinian merchant and fierce advocate of slavery, to his good friend and national Congressman William P. Miles in 1860. At issue was the potential nomination to Speaker of the House of John Sherman of Ohio, whose rise to the position would tip the balance of power to [anti-slavery] Republicans and all but assure their dominance over future bills regarding the position of slavery in the United States.
But it may as well be considered analogous to the obstructionist stance of today’s majority — Republican congress. Their outright refusal to consider any Obama Supreme Court nominee — one who could establish the first liberal court since the end of Earl Warren’s tenure in 1969 — is a disgrace to our Constitution and democracy. But it is also a juvenile, “my-way-or-the-high-way” proclamation that hearkens a bygone era — one of sectionalism, racism and inhumanity — which all but reeks of the once all-powerful white man’s fear of losing his ability to enforce traditional, bifurcated views of identity, class and ethnicity in American society.
Ironically, it is a fitting way to “honor” the memory of Justice Antonin Scalia. The Italian-American native of 1940s Queens, New York was a bigot through-and-through, and his proclaimed “Originalist” reading of the Constitution (interpreting it in the context of its authors’ “original” intentions) represented a thinly-veiled excuse for promoting his vision of a society where blacks were inferior, homosexuality was a sin to be erased and the wealthy could buy the allegiance of politicians.
“Originalism” is a misnomer. “Obstructionism,” though, does his views, uh, justice.
Indeed, Scalia’s rulings not only prevented progress, but sought to wind it back. In his dissent last December over an Affirmative Action case involving the University of Texas, he said that minorities with lower academic credentials and backgrounds than their white peers could do better at “a less advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.” Racist, for sure, but he was just warming up: “Most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”
It does not take much effort to see the connection between Scalia’s shocking comments and the anti-black vitriol at the heart of E.W. Marshall’s text. What’s perhaps more amazing, however, is that it’s 2016, and here I am having to make note of inherent similarities between clearly racist personalities born more than one hundred years apart, which has produced the same obstructionism in the current Congress as that which threatened its mid-nineteenth century counterpart.
Republicans in today’s Congress may think they are doing Scalia an honor by refusing to allow the balance to tip in favor of the opposition. If anything, they are revealing their fears of losing political power, much like pro-slavery Secessionists; and their own flagrant misunderstanding of democratic processes parallels Scalia’s backwards ideas about a world where “all men are created equal.”
So by all means, Congress, stall away: If you look to emulate Justice Scalia with a harmful and blatant misreading of the Constitution, you are right on target. But your unwillingness to even participate in a democratic process renders no favors to the living.
I never wish death upon anyone. But the passing of Antonin Scalia is a boon for America’s future — however the court’s now-open seat may ultimately be filled. Scalia called homosexuality a “moral opprobrium.” In Lawrence v. Texas, a case that challenged the state’s criminalization of gay sex, he referred to the latter as “flagpole sitting.” Commenting on a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act during its reauthorization by Congress in 2006, Scalia said its unanimous approval in the Senate was not indicative of its need but of “a phenomenon … called perpetuation of racial entitlement.”
Such ignorant, hateful language does not belong on the Supreme Court; and such language is the last thing we should expect, in this, the twenty-first century, to be issuing from the lips of a Supreme Court justice.
Good Riddance, Scalia. Oh, and R.I.P.: Remain Interred, Please. Your ideas were way past their time.