By Robert Scott
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
One of my childhood memories involves driving through rural South Carolina and Georgia on the way to visit my grandparents, who lived in Northeast Georgia. For a Navy junior whose family at the time lived in New England, things were different in the South from what I was used to – including restaurants, motels, and even drinking fountains labeled “White” and “Colored.” I remember passing a billboard reading in bold letters, “Impeach Earl Warren.” This was, of course, right after the Warren Supreme Court had outlawed racial segregation in public schools. Those who sponsored that billboard, when viewed in the best possible light, may have thought that justices serving on the Supreme Court wereno longer involved in sorting through the meaning of laws on the books. Instead, they were making law by imposing on the various states their personal views of right and wrong. We were on the road, they would say, away from the “rule of law” and into federal judicial supremacy that paid no attention to the Constitution.
By the time I was old enough to take a high school course in Government (it was really “Civics,” although not called that), textbooks even in the segregated South acknowledged that the Constitution was a “living document” whose architects envisioned its broad phrases being able to encompass a changing world and, yes, a changing sense of right and wrong. This was true when addressing issues of racial inequality (“separate but equal” is never equal if one group has power the other lacks). Later, with different justices on the Supreme Court, the majority found as well a right to privacy and announced it in the case of Roe v. Wade. This right, like racial equality, was not explicitly spelled out in the Constitution but, in their view, was well within its purview as a living document encompassing a twentieth-century view of right and wrong. And that right to privacy included protection for a woman seeking medical treatment including aborting a pregnancy which had not yet progressed to the point of viability outside herwomb.
With today’s news coverage, everybody is aware of the Supreme Court draft opinion which, if unchanged in its final form, will reverse Roe v. Wade – and more. As written, its rejection is based on getting rid of decisions which are based on rights previous courts had found in that living document, but not spelled out explicitly there or elsewhere. Where else could such logic take the court? Will it also choose to reevaluate and overturn discrimination against LGBTQ Americans, including same-sex marriage? Equal rights of women serving in the military? Other civil rights not explicitly covered by legislation, as was the case for racial integration in the 1950s? It is not easy to see where to draw the line once the principles of a “living document” are brought into question.
In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, John McWhorter wrote of a major lesson he learned from discussions with law students. He saw a need “to avoid a tempting, all-too-common misimpression: that if people have views different from yours, then the reason is either that they lack certain information or are simply bad people – that they’re either naifs or knaves.” In what will surely be a major issue starting with this election year, that is a lesson we should all learn: to listen respectfully not only to those who agree with us but, more importantly, to those who don’t. That is particularly difficultin issues like “Right to Life” vs. “Right to Choose.” But it is arguably the most important issue that every American voter will need to face this year.