The continuing cat and mouse game between Russia and Ukraine presents a possible scenario the world has not witnessed since the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. Hitler’s game was that his aggression was only against those countries he believed were wrongly taken from Germany after World War One. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain discovered that Hitler’s goals were not to restore Germany’s ancestral borders but to gain total control of Europe and then the world. Western powers like Great Britain, France, and the United States may have made German penalties for their aggression in the first world war too harsh, but the fact of the matter is that Hitler operated from a core of pure evil. No amount of death and destruction would deter him, and his thirst for power and domination was insatiable. The corruption, at his heart, would never end without his total destruction.
As we look at what is going on between Russia and Ukraine, the facts are eerily similar. Prime Minister Putin, a career KGB spy, never forgave the west for chipping away at the former Soviet Union. Mr. Putin may not prove to be someone of the magnitude of Adolf Hitler’s evil, but we must never overlook the human potential for destruction. These are indeed challenging times. The Russia-Ukraine conflict mirrors the hatred among political, racial, and cultural groups. These divisions seem to be worsening, not improving. That great theologian M. C. Hammer once sang, “We’ve got to pray just to make it today.” Professor Hammer was right. Christian people must not take wicked behavior lightly. With all that is going on in the world, we must take the words of Jesus literally and seriously. Hebrews 11:1 (KJV) state, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” As the world teeters ever closer to problem-solving with tanks, missiles, and aerial bombardment, we must remind ourselves what Jesus taught; that war is made through faith because faith, no bigger than a grain of mustard seed, has the power to transform the world.
The following is Part II of an article contributed by Atty. Ayanna D. Hawkins. In observance of Women’s History Month, again, I thank Atty. Hawkins for highlighting some of the qualifications and contributions of Black women in the legal profession in America.
BLACK WOMEN ARE QUALIFIED FOR ANY AND EVERY LEGAL POSITION!
The contention that affirmative action casts doubt on the accomplishments of potential recipients mischaracterizes how white women have benefitted more than members of every other historically marginalized racial or ethnic group. This has been illustrated twice with respect to past Supreme Court vacancies. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan tapped Sandra Day O’Connor to serve on the Court in fulfillment of a campaign pledge. In 2020, President Donald Trump explicitly nominated Justice Amy Coney Barrett in fulfillment of a similar pledge to appoint a qualified woman.
None of these three Senators withheld their support or raised any objections to Justice Barrett because of her race or gender. Furthermore, when then-candidate Trump released a list of potential nominees for the Supreme Court in May of 2016 (for the vacancy President Obama was prevented from filling upon the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia), all of those named were white. President Trump nominated only two Black women to the federal bench of the 234 vacancies he filled; yet none of these Senators decried the lack of diversity in those selections.
Senators Cruz and Kennedy who both serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, have typically voted against the nominees put forth by President Biden. Partisan and ideological differences are usually offered as the reason for opposing an otherwise qualified nominee. Senator Cruz, who went so far as to accuse President Biden of racism in his ideological opposition to the nomination of Judge Janice Rogers Brown in 2003, voted against all eleven of the Black women already confirmed. Additionally, at no point during the previous Administration did Cruz advocate for Judge Brown’s name to be considered for the Supreme Court.
It is not affirmative action that minimizes and marginalizes the accomplishments of Black women in the legal profession. It is racism and sexism. It is the inference that our career opportunities are somehow undeserved. It is ignoring the fact that each candidate under consideration for this vacancy will have similar qualifications and experience as the other current Justices on the Court. It is failing to acknowledge that until Thurgood Marshall’s nomination in 1967, most of the white male Justices were chosen for their political connections. Several justices served in all three branches of government, with the Court serving as the final career capstone: i.e., Chief Justice William Howard Taft (1857-1930), after serving as the 27th President of the United States; and Chief Justice Earl Warren (1891-1974), after serving as the 30th Governor of California and failing to secure his party’s nomination for President in 1948 and 1952.
When Pauli Murray wrote to President Richard Nixon and asked to be considered for the vacancy created by the retirement and death of Justice Hugo Black (1886-1971), it was probably ignored as incredulous. Until President Bill Clinton doubled the number of Black women chosen to serve on the federal bench, only three were appointed between 1981 and 1992. The issue has not been that Black women fail to qualify, but that those in power fail or refuse to consider Black women for available vacancies. A Black woman in that seat won’t undo historical atrocities or systemic racism, but she’ll have a vote. One vote can save our democracy. Her voice will speak to future generations and form the basis of how the law will be interpreted. Who knows what long-term impact she will have on the Court?
The following is Part I of an article contributed by Atty. Ayanna D. Hawkins. In observance of Women’s History Month, I thank Atty. Hawkins for highlighting some of the qualifications and contributions of Black women in the legal profession in America.
BLACK WOMEN ARE QUALIFIED FOR ANY AND EVERY LEGAL POSITION!
On January 26, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer announced his intention to retire from the U.S. Supreme Court at the end of the 2022 term. Perhaps in anticipation of this historic opportunity, President Joseph Biden, who made elevating a Black woman to the Supreme Court one of his campaign promises, has spent his first year in office, identifying potential nominees. As of this month, President Biden has nominated twenty Black women to the federal bench, eleven of whom have been Senate-confirmed, positioning any one of those candidates for his short list for the Supreme Court.
No sooner than the vacancy was announced and President Biden’s intentions were reiterated, several Senators from the opposing party pounced. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) called the announcement “racist” and “offensive to the 94% of the population that are not Black women”. He stated that as an obvious beneficiary of affirmative action, the potential nominee would have her accomplishments overshadowed by concerns that her opportunity came solely due to race. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), agreed with that assessment and declared that he would not support the nominee, prior to any hearings or official selection. Perhaps the most egregious statement was made by Senator Joseph Kennedy (R-LA) who offered the insulting stipulation that the nominee must be able to discern the difference between a law book and a clothing catalog.
Speaking from 25 years of experience as a Black woman in the legal profession, these reactions are disappointing, but not unexpected. I once had a client fire me the day before a trial in favor of a male attorney whom he presumed would have a better chance at winning (he did not). I once moderated a discussion on affirmative action wherein a young man insisted that white men were always the most qualified for competitive positions throughout society. Another time during a radio interview in which I defended the admissions criteria to competitive state universities, a caller questioned why having an all-Black football team was not considered diverse enough.
As frustrating as those anecdotes from my personal experience are, I can only imagine what it must have been like for the Black women that preceded me in the profession. Charlotte E. Ray (1850-1911) was the first Black woman to receive a law degree in this country in 1872 from Howard University. She finished school, passed the bar exam, but could not build a clientele to sustain her legal practice. It is unclear that abolitionist, journalist, and educator Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893), the second Black woman to receive her law degree from Howard University in 1883 fared any better. Both of these women were alive when Chief Justice Robert B. Taney (1777-1864) issued the Dred Scott decision in 1857 that declared Black people had no rights that whites were bound to respect.
Pauli Murray (1910-1985) graduated at the top of her law school class at Howard University in 1944, but was denied the prestigious Julius Rosenwald Fellowship for graduate work at Harvard Law School because it was only available to male graduates. She coined the term “Jane Crow” to describe the dual obstacles of racism and sexism she encountered. Ironically, it was her scholarship that formed the basis of the arguments used by two future Supreme Court Justices, Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020), in dismantling race and gender-based distinctions in the law.
The first Black women appointed to the federal bench by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 was Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005). She had worked as a law clerk to future Associate Justice Marshall and had been a member of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund team of lawyers that litigated school desegregation and other forms of public discrimination. She would serve as the only Black woman on the federal bench until President Jimmy Carter increased the number to eight. Even if Senators Cruz, Kennedy, and Wicker were unaware of these historic figures, they were cognizant how their statements would resonate in a country that has become more deeply divided over the issue of race in the last ten years. The contention that affirmative action casts doubt on the accomplishments of potential recipients mischaracterizes how white women have benefitted more than members of every other historically marginalized racial or ethnic group.