The Dred Scott ruling in 1857 said Negroes could never be citizens, that they were “beings of an inferior order” and that they “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
In 1886 in Southern Pacific Railroad the court declared that corporations were people and hence entitled to constitutional rights.
In 2000 in Bush v. Gore the court made a Republican president even though the Democrat had 550,000 more popular votes. In 2010 in Citizens United the court granted corporations First Amendment rights, upholding previous rulings that money is speech.
And just last month the Corporate Court ruled in AT&T Mobility that consumers cannot band together in class-action suits to pursue justifiable complaints.
The last three cases were decided 5-4 by five Republican politicians.
Yet the portrait gallery here cheered me.
Louis Brandeis was the greatest of the 112 justices and chief justices who have served on the court since 1790. Brandeis, the people’s lawyer who became the people’s justice, served from 1916 to 1939. The portrait here shows him both benign and serious.
Two of my favorite justices are Hugo Black (1937-1971) and Bill Douglas (1939-1975). They were superb on the First Amendment. The luminescent portrait of Black was painted from a photo by Yousuf Karsch, great photographer who took the “bulldog” portrait of Churchill.
Pictured also is Earl Warren, greatest chief justice. He ruled for people as opposed to Chief Justice John Marshall who ruled for property.
As young people say these days, it was cool to be in the Supreme Court inner sanctum to hear oral argument in the case of Nevada Ethics Commission v. Carrigan (Sparks city councilman).
I observed and heard the justices for the first time after years of teaching and writing about them and the court. The questioning by the justices was lively with counsel for both sides bombarded by tough queries.
The courtroom is awesome: four white marble columns on four sides with ionic capitals and a 44-foot-high rosette ceiling. The justices appear from behind a curtain like nine popes.
New York Times accounts of oral argument usually suggest how the justices will rule. But in the Carrigan case the result is uncertain.
A guess: the court will find for the commission because ethics trumps the law and Carrigan’s First Amendment argument is far-fetched.
The temple of the Lincoln Memorial here is desecrated by swarms of tourists and mobs of school kids.
One way to escape the tourist woes of this consummate tourist city is to go to an art museum. Washington has lots of them.
Try the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art with Modigliani’s “Nude on a Blue Cushion” or Monet’s gauzy paintings of the “The Houses of Parliament” and the Rouen Cathedral series. Or try the Corcoran Art Gallery with Pissarro’s “The Louvre, the Morning, Rainy Weather” and Sargent’s “Girl Fishing at San Vigilia.”
On a previous visit I spent six hours in the Holocaust Museum but walked out without seeing all the exhibits because I couldn’t take any more grimness. This time I spent just two hours but it’s still depressing.
One of the grimmest sights is a floor full of shoes worn by some of those exterminated in the “final solution.”
Broadcaster Edward R. Murrow witnessed the liberation of Buchenwald with American troops near the end of World War II. He was so appalled he asked: “Where was God?”
On entering the museum visitors pick up a card identifying one of the “dead souls” sent to the concentration camps. My card bore the name of Shiomo Reich of Lodz, Poland.
Reich was liberated from Dachau in 1944. He was lucky. Six million Jews perished in the Holocaust.
Abbé Sièyes, asked what he did during the French Revolution, replied: “I survived.” Reich survived.
Cheers for Reed youth
Students from Reed High School in Sparks were in D.C. for the “We the People” national finals. They did not win but they acquitted themselves well.
One group presented the case for civil disobedience, going to jail as a matter of conscience rather than obeying bad laws. (M.L. King) Arguing were Nicole Echeto, Carley Porter and Meagan Moore.
The other Reed trio explained the great importance of the First Amendment in America. Arguing were Hannah Vine, Tyler Glider and Sarah Whitson.
Mark Towell of the Reed history department is their mentor. He obviously imparts excellent civics lessons.
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.