This year’s court races are seriously important. Make your voice heard | Michael Coard

The Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg (Capital-Star file)

By Michael Coard

PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania’s primary election day is this Tuesday, May 18. And although it’s during what’s known as an “off-year election” cycle that features no mayoral, gubernatorial or presidential contests, it’s extremely important.

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In fact, it’s literally more than life-or-death important. That’s because it determines who’s going to have direct and immediate authority over you, over what you may do, and over what you may say.

Here’s how: Unlike a mayor or a governor — or even a president — a judge can take your property via seizure/forfeiture orders, take away your children via custody orders, take away your liberty via incarceration orders, and take away your life via death penalty orders.

That’s some serious power, actually some absolute power. Remember what Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

That absolute power gets worse when you factor in the suffocating and ever-present reality of judicial racism as an essential cog in the brutally grinding machinery of American racism.

The Capital-Star’s 2021 Voters’ Guide: Everything you need to know about Pa.’s May 18 election

America’s laws in general and America’s judges/justices in particular have almost never been a friend to Black people and almost always have been and continue to be antagonistic to us. If you think that’s hyperbole, consider the following historical and modern-day undeniable facts:

1619: Slavery

Following raids by Europeans in West Africa, 350 African men, women, and children were forced aboard a “slave” ship and approximately 20-30 of them arrived shackled in bondage in colonial America at Old Point Comfort, Va. on August 25, where- pursuant to colonial American law interpreted by judges- they were forcibly sold and leased. This was the birth of America’s “slave” laws, better known as “slave codes.”

1704: Cops

Municipal police departments — pursuant to colonial American law interpreted by judges — began as “slave patrols.” The first official one was in the Colony of Carolina after which this racist policing concept spread throughout the South then the North. As documented by Western Michigan University history professor Sally Hadden in her book entitled “Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas,” the laws creating those patrols deputized civilian white men to engage in the “monitoring … [of] rigid pass requirements for blacks …, breaking up large gatherings… of blacks, … searching ‘slave’ quarters randomly, [and] inflicting impromptu punishments …”

1789: Nation’s Fundamental Law

The U.S. Constitution — which mandates absolute adherence by all judges in every county, colony, state, and territory — not only endorsed slavery but also promoted it in at least five specific clauses. Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 defined enslaved Blacks as subhuman, counting them as three-fifths of a human being. Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 established the Electoral College, giving white slavery-promoting southerners more influence than white northerners in presidential elections. Article I, Section 8, Clause 15 guaranteed federal military aid, thus protecting the South in case of “slave” rebellions. Article I, Section 9, Clause 1 extended the importation of Africans into American slavery for two more decades. Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 tightened the grip of slavery by requiring free states to return escapees to “slave” states.

1857: Dred Scott case

The U.S. Supreme Court — which consists of justices who are the final arbiters of American law — ruled 7-2 that Blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” By the way, this ruling has never been directly overturned by the Supreme Court and in fact was actually strengthened by the court’s racist Slaughter-House cases ruling in 1873 (despite Congress’ passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 and 14th Amendment in 1868).

1896: Supreme Court legalizes Jim Crow

In Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court, which consists of justices who are the final arbiters of American law, sanctioned Jim Crow’s racist segregation throughout the entire country by ruling that “separate is equal.”

1954: Brown V. Board of Education didn’t really overrule Plessy

In Brown v. Board of Education (Brown I), the Supreme Court, which consists of justices who are the final arbiters of American law, pretended to overrule Plessy v. Ferguson by ruling that the “separate but equal” doctrine is unconstitutional. But if it really meant that, why was there a Brown II case in 1955 that halfheartedly kinda/sorta ordered implementation “with all deliberate speed” and then a Brown III case in 1978 that only began increasing implementation of Brown I as recently as 1998 but still hasn’t fully implemented Brown I as of 2021?

2013: Supreme Court kills Voting Rights Act

In Shelby County v. Attorney General Eric Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court, which consists of justices who are the final arbiters of American law, invalidated two essential “pre-clearance” sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, thereby making it much easier for racist southern states to disenfranchise Blacks.

2016: Dred Scott ruling is alive and well

Kansas Solicitor General Stephen McCallister filed a legal brief to that state’s Supreme Court justices citing the aforementioned Dred Scott ruling (by the U.S. Supreme Court justices) to support his reactionary and frightening legal argument in a case entitled Herbert Hodes, M.D. & Traci Lynn Nauser, M.D. v. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. He did that because, although he’s a racist, he’s also a smart lawyer who knows that the U.S. Supreme Court has never overruled its 1857 Dred Scott decision.

As a result of all of the above, it is indisputably obvious that America’s laws in general and America’s judges/justices in particular have almost never been a friend to Black people and almost always have been and continue to be antagonistic to us. So if judges/justices have been and continue to be the problem, what’s the solution?

There are several. One is Just Courts PA, which is a woke and much-needed organization created by Black Progressive PAC to “educate voters on judicial candidates who embrace movement-supported solutions for Black folks.”

Stay tuned. Stay woke. And remember the profound words of Thurgood Marshall — the only (yes, I said only) Black person who ever served on the U.S. Supreme Court: “Where you see … injustice, speak out because this is your country. This is your democracy … Protect it.”

Speak out in the voting booths on May 18 and protect Black people in the courtrooms every day.

An attorney and radio host, Michael Coard is a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this column first appeared

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.