In 1789, when the Supreme Court of the United States was founded, the President of the United States was George Washington, who owned Mount Vernon and 123 slaves. Martha Washington, his wife, owned another 194 slaves. The Secretary of State at that time was Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the famous line, “…all men are created equal….” Nevertheless, he owned 600 slaves but eventually freed a total of 9 during his life and after his death, keeping the other 591 in captivity. He fought against the slave trade, but encouraged his slaves to procreate, gaining wealth and more slaves in the process. Along with his slave, Sally Hemings1, Jefferson fathered 6 of his slaves himself. Of the first 12 Presidents, only 2 were not slave owners and all were wealthy and influential.
Of the 26 original members of the United States Senate, more than half were slave owners and almost all the rest were influential lawyers. These men enacted laws and appointed a Supreme Court that allowed them to own other people and use and abuse those people. And these slave owners put their “property rights” above any principle of equality. They enacted laws which prosecuted anyone who helped anyone escape slavery. And, given that these wealthy and powerful men had children and grandchildren among their slaves, it must be assumed that they were well aware that their slaves were people and “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
So, being selected by wealthy and powerful slave owners in our new country, the Supreme Court was learned in English law, eager to protect the rights of those that got them appointed to the highest position in their profession, and subject to censure or impeachment if they violated the “ownership rights” of slave owners to protect the “human rights” of women or their children and grandchildren. Having declared the new principle of equality, the Founding Fathers failed to follow through in implementing it and instead made property rights the fundamental and primary right until it suited them to also override property rights.
Thomas Jefferson was front and center in this exercise in inequality as well2. As the President of the United States and also president of the American Philosophical Society, he personally oversaw the “Louisiana Purchase,” a deal between France and the US over who got to steal the middle of the North American continent from its inhabitants. The Louis and Clark Expedition was tutored by members of his American Philosophical Society, funded by the US government and supported by the US Army, whose Commander in Chief was again the same Thomas Jefferson who pretended to believe that “all men are created equal.” Meanwhile, Jefferson completely disregarded the equality of his children (both slaves and daughters), his consort, and the inhabitants and presumptive owners of the lands west of Kentucky.
So, when we pretend that these men of our past can be the arbiters of “right” and “wrong” today, I think we’re missing the bigger picture and engaging in fantasy and hero worship rather than making wise and fair decisions on how to adjudicate today’s rapidly evolving civilization.
It is deeply troubling when six of these nine judges abrogated the long-standing right of women to determine what happens within their own bodies and the right of privacy between themselves and their physicians, something that, as lawyers, they might be expected to understand and value.
In overturning Roe v. Wade, the judiciary exacerbated the deep divisions that religious extremism has always fomented. It makes an alliance between government and religion that the Founding Fathers were determined to prevent, something that seems ironic given that six justices are pretending to follow the Constitution in both letter and intent.
However, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization3 may not be the most damaging and dangerous recent Supreme Court decision. I believe THAT distinction belongs to the January 21, 2010 decision4 (5-4) that prohibits local, state and federal government regulation of corporate political activity. For the last twelve years that decision has destroyed democracy by giving unlimited influence to non-human, monopolistic coalitions representing entire industries. In corporate capitalism, stocks and bonds are diversified, so there is no longer any motivation except to make as much profit as possible in the next fiscal quarter. As one example, the NRA recently stopped a widely supported ban on the sale of assault weapons from becoming law, actively perverting our democracy with disinformation and massive campaign contributions. The NRA contributed $30,000,000.00 to the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump and the Republican Party has been stacking the Supreme Court with conservatives for quite a while now.
Instead of protecting individual rights from government overreach, the Supreme Court is empowering local and state governments to override the rights of individual choice and conscience in their own private and personal affairs and ceding power to religious zealots, political ideologues and non-human, monopolistic, profit-seeking coalitions which fund political campaigns and hire experts to write the legislation that their well-supported representatives in government propose. Then these Political Action Committees stay around to husband their custom-made bills into law using massive campaign influence as threats as well as bribes. The fact that almost no Republican can bring himself or herself to support a ban on assault weaponry despite widespread popularity back home is ample evidence that opposing the NRA is political suicide for Republican politicians and demonstrates the absolute absurdity of this ruling by the high court. Furthermore, widespread lies about the last Presidential election are destroying democracy and Donald Trump’s immense political wealth and power makes taking a stand against these lies unwise despite being the right thing to do.
And just because a corporation is incorporated in the United States doesn’t necessarily mean its owners are US citizens. This decision gives domestic AND foreign profiteers unlimited political influence and grossly unbalances elections by massive spending and a great deal of misinformation!
I think it’s important for us to realize that, along with Brexit and Trump’s “Stop the Steal,” the US and England are going reactionary while the EU has put protecting individual rights as the primary responsibility of the central government. We can see the divisiveness that reactionary stances create. It’s inevitable once we elevate antiquated concepts above creating an egalitarian, cohesive, inclusive and cooperative society.
While the Pope apologizes for Church members incarcerating and abusing Native American children, we might (just for the moment) contemplate our own sins of greed and grandiosity in abusing others; for putting our own beliefs over the ordinary rights and respect that others deserve and have earned but not received. The 2 or 3 million people we killed in Vietnam did nothing to deserve that abuse we rained down on them for almost two decades. The population of Iraq did hardly anything to deserve bombs, invasion, and the destruction of their infrastructure and civility. And, as we contemplate Iran or North Korea as our next designated enemy, we might, just for a moment, try and recall what rules apply to equals and what rules come from inequality and divisiveness.
©David Ney Dodson, Phoenix, AZ, July 2022
1Sally Hemings was herself the daughter of John Wayles, as was Martha Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s deceased wife.
3June 24, 2022: The Supreme Court overturns a woman’s right to privacy in asserting a religiously-motivated “right to life” (5-4): http://www.cnn.com/2022/06/24/politics/dobbs-mississippi-supreme-court-abortion-roe-wade/