U.S. Rule of Law in Danger?
On a bright May day graduates of a women’s college of all ages sat under a large tent eating a salmon lunch and looking forward to their speaker; the much admired former Chief Justice of Massachusetts, Margaret Marshall. They were expecting an inspiring, enjoyable talk—not quite what Marshall would deliver.
Her introducer spoke of her many accomplishments, culminating in the decision on gay marriage that made her a national figure. Eminent women lawyers had spoken in the morning and now she would be the highlight of the day. First she would be awarded a medal for distinguished service.
Gracious both in appearance and in her South African-accented carefully chosen words, Judge Marshall began speaking of her childhood, her growing awareness of the cruel wrongs of apartheid, her determination to achieve her higher education in the U.S., and her amazement at observing the benefits of a “society of laws” here. After going home to help her country overturn apartheid, her actions led to having to leave South Africa and a ban on returning there for many years.
Judge Marshall’s voice seemed to lower and gain intensity as she described what she saw under the old South African regime threaten our country today. A “government of laws,” she said, had to have an educated public. She was seeing both our laws and education in danger. The problems in our education system were not her topic this day; it was our endangered legal system. She gave a fairly complex description of “impartiality” and the essential nature of relying strictly on evidence, “the first duty of a judge.” Marshall then gave examples of how politics was encroaching on our legal system even up to its highest level in the Supreme Court. Her quotations from Judge Scalia showed contempt for impartiality she found frightening. Members of Congress have already raised the possibility of ignoring Supreme Court decisions.
The Supreme Court decision in favor of Citizens United is polluting our system with corporate money which was already being used to elect federal judges. (As she foretold, the New York Times on June 6 editorialized on how a conservative super PAC has entered and threatens to distort an election for the North Carolina Supreme Court). Marshall told us how Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was speaking around the country on the same dangers she was spelling out.
Many left the lunch with the unmistakable sense something had to be done - the “Paul Revere” effect. But what could an ordinary citizen do? The answer was clear; the coming elections are crucial. Courts would move even further to the right if control of the Senate or the Presidency goes to the Republicans. The Supreme Court and the courts of this land must not be further tilted towards people whose vote can be bought or whose decisions no longer reflect the impartiality essential to the rule of law. Thank you, “Margy” Marshall, for speaking out again for justice as you have done all your life!
WAND is already working with candidates (more info at the WAND PAC website) who will uphold our laws. WAND can educate and alert voters to what they are in danger of losing. In Washington, WAND works with a coalition of groups dedicated to a just society. We have strong women, both as legislators and voters, who are willing to stand up for our democratic system. WAND not only knows what needs to be done, but how to do it!
-Sayre Sheldon, NGO Representative for WAND at the U.N. and WAND Education Fund Board Member