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Groundbreaking Federal Judge Says Current Supreme Court Is as Bad as the Court That Handed Down Dred Scott Decision in 1857

U.W. Clemon

U.W. Clemon

It’s been 158 years since the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision ruled that African-Americans were not American citizens and had no rights. But a groundbreaking federal judge believes the current Roberts Court is the worst court the nation has seen in the area of civil rights since the Dred Scott decision was handed down.

U.W. Clemon, who became Alabama’s first Black federal judge when he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, presented his withering analysis of the current Supreme Court during an appearance on Democracy Now.

“It was Charles Evans Hughes who once said that the Constitution means at any given point in time only what five members of the Supreme Court say that it means,” Clemon, 71, told host Amy Goodman while attending ceremonies in Selma, Alabama, over the weekend. “And we have seen, in the last quarter-century, a Supreme Court as reactionary as the Taney Court which decided the Dred Scott decision. This court today is as amorous of states’ rights, which we thought we had fought a great Civil War over, thought we had settled that issue —but this Supreme Court has resurrected states’ rights, and it’s now a constitutional principle.”

By turning back the Voting Rights Act in the Shelby ruling, Clemon said, the court has allowed states to usher in the kind of voting restrictions that he fought against 50 years ago in Alabama. Clemon knows of what he speaks: He confronted the infamous Sheriff Bull Connor over Birmingham’s segregation laws when he was still a student at Miles College in 1962, marched with activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, and personally desegregated the Birmingham Public Library.

It’s a legacy that gives him a clear historical picture of what’s going on today in America. Taking a long view of American history, Clemon goes all the way back to the 19th century to find a court as racially regressive as the one presided over by John Roberts.

Clemon has seen some race wars during his time in the South: As a civil rights lawyer in Alabama, he sued Paul “Bear” Bryant in 1969 to desegregate the University of Alabama’s football team, and he brought employment discrimination cases against some of the largest employers in Alabama.

Asked by Goodman whether he would call today’s court a “Jim Crow court,” Clemon didn’t back down.

“Well, I would say that this Supreme Court is — yes, it’s a flamethrower,” he said. “And it is, in my judgment, the worst Supreme Court in terms of civil rights since, as I said, 1857, the decision that caused the Civil War.”

Ted Shaw

Ted Shaw

Clemon currently practices law in Birmingham, after retiring from the judiciary in January 2009.

Ted Shaw, the former president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and currently a professor of the University of North Carolina Law School as well as director of the school’s Center for Civil Rights, told Democracy Now that many Americans are afraid of the country’s changing demographics.

“It’s causing them to literally act in ways that are mad,” Shaw said. “I don’t mean angry mad; I mean like insane mad. And it’s infected our politics. And race is very much at the center of a lot of these issues. They’re afraid of not being in the majority anymore, even though they’ll still have disproportionate power. So, you know, I think we’re in a dangerous time and a dangerous place. The Voting Rights Act is still important, the right to vote sacred. This is political disempowerment that’s followed from Shelby County, or potential political disempowerment. So, the struggle continues. It may change in some ways, but it continues.”

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11 thoughts on “Groundbreaking Federal Judge Says Current Supreme Court Is as Bad as the Court That Handed Down Dred Scott Decision in 1857

  1. Honest discourse is precisely what is needed to address some of the country's current ills. UW Clemon continues to brilliantly and valiantly shed a bright and shining light on issues that matter.

  2. Hank Wilson says:

    "Honest discourse," Ok, now what's next? Black folks have been having "honest discourse" with ourselves for 400 years! We have been side tracked, caught up in the bad cop vs good cop game. In other words, the Democrats vs the Republican game. An, all the time we African Americans refused to see the obvious, which is plainly there for all to see. What's that? Here it is! When the so call racist republics are in full power white American liberals and conservatives still all win, and when liberal democrats are in full power white American liberals and conservatives still all win. However, we African Americans still end up with the shorter end of the stick. So, lets us stop jumping on everybody else's bandwagons and stop letting everybody else jump on our bandwagon. We must start being very selective in who we're voting for no matter what their ethnicity is. Jobs is most likely the number one issue hurting communities. However, that takes years to turn around. Education is a work in progress. Now, let us get to the easy fixes, first, police terrorizing African Americans, the racist criminal justice system and finally we must make African American politicians accountable to us.

  3. Hank Wilson since you want plain and simple, our jobs issue is partially due to black folks not maintaining and keeping their own businesses going. Some blacks ran to buy white folks "ice or whatever was white" and removed from their own neighborhoods summer jobs, and others ran to bask in the aura of white folks believing it was better. Yes, I agree it will take a lot of work to just rebuild what we let ignorant (and often paid black folks) to destroy our communities in riots and to sell drugs. So it is not only politics, it is far more important about caring about your own when it comes to providing services for your own…black folks caring our our own communities…and not some fake image of "bling." As my grandparents used to say, why do you expect white folks to care more for you than you do for yourself? I'm hearing a lot of silence and crickets chirping…because we did it to ourselves and we will only change it by remaking ourselves in our own business and educational images…not some modern version of a "N****r-rich TV show…a bunch of silliness.

  4. Hank Wilson Your comments ARE honest discourse….

  5. Going to have to agree with Daayiee Abdullah. We are complicit and culpable as it relates to our own circumstances. I'm not saying that there are not extenuating circumstances, there have been for 400 years as Hank Wilson so aptly pointed out. However, this is not all political. And we can't blame racist Republicans or dumb Democrats for everything that ails us. We are also to blame. And more than anyone I might add.

    I grew up in a neighborhood where everything was Black owned. That all changed and we began pouring our dollars, hearts and souls into White businesses, White neighborhoods and White communities. We replaced our own businesses – our economic power – with drugs, gangs and politicians with little interest in anything beyond their own greed. Some of us became educated, left our communities and tried to acclimate into communities that neither accepted or respected us. Yes, Hank Wilson, we have some work to do. But if we don't check ourselves and keep the conversations going – we will always be at a loss.

    We now have to suffer this generation of babies who had babies who could care less about politics, voting, education, economic empowerment or anything else that will grow, build, nurture, strengthen or somehow put our fractured communities back together. I vote. Every election. What has that gotten me other than guaranteed jury duty? Even with a Black president – am I better off? Not necessarily – economically. With his election we've pretty much just proven that a Black man can run the country and it will not collapse or fall into shambles. (I love our president!) But politics are so much bigger than we think. We don't control as much as we think we do with our simple votes. But what we can control is our own thoughts, conversations, how we treat each other, whether we respect each other, how we raise and educate our kids, how we prioritize, what we expect from ours and others, the legacy we leave for our kids and grand kids and such.

    So for now, lets just keep the honest discourse going. Maybe we'll reach some folk who will – with our help – eventually make a difference….

  6. Daayiee, if you think your summary entirely defines the problem then you're as much the problem as your woefully narrow observation.

  7. Souljah Dee says:

    Yall niggas want to be white so bad lo.

  8. Zell Ford says:

    Worry not. One way or another, it goes both ways.

    Take #WhiteOutDay for example. Whites pretending to be black/have culture.

  9. Gene-Williams, sadly you attend a high school that is not the best of schools by a long measuring stick, and thus, reveals how little you have learned within that institution. But more importantly, let us look at your lack of experience and understanding of black history. It is obvious and one of the reasons you have made such a foolhardy comment when you highlight the very issue I described…no good role models that would have you think more about improving our black community rather than an attempt to destroy it. I have more than double the number of years in education than you have been alive to date, lived in many places you have probably only seen via TV…all via academic achievement and not via the military, and come from a long, proud history of black men and women who were and are pillars in their communities. Therefore, it is silly as well as foolhardy that you would believe any one comment can encompass the totality of any issue…that is what has been referred to in earlier times as "silly-n****r thinking,"based upon emotion-laced, knee-jerk commentary. May I suggest you stay in school for the same number of years after high school graduation as you are alive today…meaning well into your 30s or early 40s, and maybe one day you will fully comprehend the benefit of education and deep intellectual thinking and discussion that goes beyond negro-tudes. As Thurgood Marshall, (yes, the one that brought about the change in US education for blacks in 1954), said one day to an aflluent black law student (one of my classmates at Georgetown Law School) while commenting on his lack of depth in understanding the circumstances of blacks in America in the 1980s, the law student had misunderstood more black history and the laws that influenced the law student's life than the law student had pretended to know. I think that comment is appropriate in this context.

  10. Love thy neighbor!

  11. DL Foster says:

    I guess this judge and other bewildered African Americans haven't got the news. Or they didn't take it seriously when they heard it. Its been everywhere because a lot of the liberal media sources (including ones that African Americans frequent) trumpeted it. Gay is the new black. Gay rights have completely eclipsed black civil rights as the movement du jour. The president, the black congressional club and black civil rights orgs have all helped to move black civil rights to the judicial junkyard because we are no longer considered an important voting demographic except for dog and pony race issues. We've allowed gay issues overshadow ours while we dutifully supported it because they told us "we of all people should understand discrimination" Now, they are about to get everything on their judicial wish list while we are left to marches and speeches that are largely symbolic, if that. And just in case we thought we had a chance under a black president, look at the only types of black news the media will show the general population.

    Sad and tragic indeed but not for the reasons the judge thinks.

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