June 29, Supreme Court Decisions

In 1776, in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed”…. (Capitalization of nouns was used in the original and is still used in written German today.)
This is the beginning of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, which was signed by 56 men, (41 slave owners) representing thirteen colonies. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were among the slave owners. This led to the Revolutionary war and the establishment of the United States of America. The denial of the Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness continued for 76 more years.
In 1789, the Preamble to the Constitution said: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” It is important to note that the Constitution and the United States were established by “We the People,” not God. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson could have written, “all People are created equal,” but he didn’t.
The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence must be considered to be aspirational, not a group of self-evident truths, because all “Men” were created equal, not women nor black slaves, nor Indians. Slavery was not abolished until the XIIIth Amendment, ratified in 1865, after a Civil War that cost over 600,000 lives. Ratification was a condition for readmission to the Union of formerly rebellious Confederate States. Black men got the right to vote in the XVth Amendment, ratified in 1870. Women got the right to vote in federal elections in the XIXth Amendment, ratified in 1920. “Jim Crow” laws in Southern States that restricted the rights of Black citizens to vote were made illegal in federal elections by the 1964 and 1965 civil rights and voting rights bills, signed by President Lyndon Johnson. In 2023, Republicans are still trying to dilute the value of Black votes by gerrymandering their voting districts. The Supreme Court has been slow to act to remove this remnant of prejudice based on race.
Racial, religious, and gender based bigotry are still evident in the United States today. These attitudes are more common in Republican Conservatives in “Red States” but are certainly not limited to them. The 2022 Supreme Court “Hobbs”decision, overturning Roe v Wade (1973) which had found a right to privacy, including the right of an individual woman to obtain an abortion, permitted individual states to regulate a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. “Red States,” anticipating this decision because of President Trump’s three appointments to the Court, had “trigger laws” in place which effectively eliminated the right to abortion and even interfered with physicians’ ability to intelligently manage spontaneous miscarriages, or abort fetuses based on intrauterine diagnoses of fetal defects that would eventually prove fatal. Such laws are clearly based on Roman Catholic and fundamentalist Protestant interpretations of their religious precepts. These restrictive laws in Red States apply to everyone in the state practicing any other religion or even no religion. How do these laws promote the inalienable Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness of women who are pregnant and don’t want to be? Abortion is medically safer than normal pregnancy and delivery. It is particularly so in poor, black women. How does banning abortion “promote the general Welfare?”
Over the centuries, Roman Catholic popes, until Pius X, (1846-1878) went back and forth in rulings about whether or not abortion was considered to be murder. The basic argument was whether all abortion was murder or only abortion of a “formed fetus” (about six weeks.) Pius X’s ruling that all abortion is murder became permanent when Vatican Council I voted in 1870 that the Pope’s rulings, ex cathedra, were infallible.
The history of Western society’s valuation of the worth of the life of a fetus developed over 4,000 years from the law code of Ur Nammu, king of Sumer, 2047-2030 BC, who ruled that accidentally causing a miscarriage was worth a fine of 10 shekels (the same as a slap in the face) through the Code of Hammurabi, king of Babylon, 1792-1750 BC, who also ruled that the life of a fetus was only worth a fine: 10 shekels for a free citizen’s fetus, 5 shekels for a commoner’s fetus and 2 shekels for a slave’s fetus, to the Bible, ~1000 BC, Exodus 21: 23-25, which ruled that causing a miscarriage was worth a fine to be determined by judges in court. If, however, the mother lost her life as a result of a miscarriage, Hammurabi prescribed killing the daughter of whoever caused the miscarriage and the Bible prescribes “life for life….” wording taken from Hammurabi. Intentional abortion by a physician or in a back alley is not discussed by any of these law codes. But, none of them, including the Bible, consider the life of a fetus to have the same worth as the life of the mother. In America, the National Right to Life Committee was not founded until 1968. Since then, Conservatives have been arguing that life starts at conception.
The Bible, Genesis 2:7, is interpreted by Jews (who wrote it) to say that life starts at the first breath when the soul enters the body. God breathed the breath of life into Adam, whom He had fashioned from the earth, and Adam became a “living being.” (The word, adam, in Hebrew, means a human. It is not a name.) The Pythagorean Greek, ~500 BC, concept that life begins at “conception” didn’t have a concrete meaning until the 20th century when we could actually see sperm fertilizing eggs. When the soul, if it exists at all, enters the fertilized egg cannot be solved by medical science. Insisting that all abortion is murder is on very shaky historical, religious, and biological grounds. Forcing all pregnant women to carry fetuses to delivery regardless of how they were conceived or the mother’s wishes, is often dangerously medically stupid.
The Colonies, and after them, the United States, had chattel slavery from 1619 until 1865. Slavery was very important in the antebellum economy of both the South and North. It made cotton production very profitable due to low labor costs. The practice was spread around many members of society, including Jews and even free Blacks. And, it was defended by Christians and Jews based on Biblical verses. There are a lot of verses in both the Old and New Testaments that prescribe how to treat your slaves. There are also a lot of Biblical verses that led other Christians and Jews to conclude that slavery is immoral. The long history of being non-citizens, then second class citizens has obviously had enormous sociological and psychological effects on Black Americans, which continue today. Arguing that the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency means that we are in a “post racial” society is not defensible. He only got 52% of the vote. Gun sales went up. Gerrymandering of voting districts continued. Racism is unfortunately alive and well in the United States.
On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court, by a 6-3 vote, clearly along Conservative-Liberal lines, said that colleges may not use race based affirmative action as a factor in admissions. Racially motivated bigotry against Blacks caused hundreds of years of suppression of the Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness but race may not be used as one of the factors in attempts to remedy such bigotry. How does this help to guarantee the right to the “Pursuit of Happiness”? How does it “promote the general Welfare”?
In the opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts, he used the “equal protection” clause of the XIVth Amendment, 1866, to say that affirmative action based on race (black) denied whites the equal protection of the law. The XIVth Amendment was written and ratified precisely to correct the historical denial of equal protection of the laws to black people. Justice Roberts and the other five conservative justices turned this clause on its head. Do some or all of them, deep down in their “souls,” actually consider black Americans to be somehow inferior to whites?
The amended Constitution gives full civil rights to citizens regardless of color and full voting rights to citizens regardless of sex. But we still see the offense of “driving while black” and the shooting of unarmed black Americans by the police at a much, much higher rate that whites. Women do not have the right to control their own sex and reproductive lives. State legislatures, often mostly men, do. “You’ve come a long way, baby,” but we still have a long way to go.
And, what we did and continue to do to American Indians is simply unconscionable.