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How Federal Judges Use and Abuse the Words of Martin Luther King Jr. in Their Decisions

Republican-appointed judges attempt to lay claim to moral legitimacy by invoking MLK.

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That surprised me until I realized that the minority his ruling favored was white and English-speaking. The case involved Puerto Rico's Realtors licensing exam, which had stopped administering the test in English, and the plaintiffs didn't want to take it in Spanish.  

Hmm, a Republican judge protecting a white, English-speaking, colonial minority interest? As people of color become the majority in more and more American jurisdictions, I can't help wondering if a decision like this presages how Republican judges will invoke Dr. King in the future. There are bound to be, for instance, more and more redistricting efforts by Republican state legislatures, desperate to hold onto what will become increasingly tenuous majorities, that will end up in court.  

Will President Obama and the Senate be able to fill the  93 current and  20 looming judicial vacancies with judges who have a clue about the actual Martin Luther King? Or will we end up with more Republican judges and their cartoon caricature of the great man? Whatever happens, on this MLK Day and every other day, whenever a court invokes Dr. King, make sure to judge it by the content of their characterization.

1. This number does not include the many civil disobedience cases and Vietnam War conscientious objector cases I found. In those, defendants would cite Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" for justification, and the judges, Republican and Democrat, would quote the letter right back at them: “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the consequences.” Then they'd pack them off to prison. Because the outcome was always inevitable and there was no difference between Republican and Democratic judicial behavior, I laid these cases to the side.

2. Gee followed up with this gem: "[w]hen such a selection is based on the irrelevant ground of skin color, there is danger that the views which the selectee brings to a position of power may be as eccentric as the gerrymandered shape of the district which was tailored to secure his election."

3. Judge Hand, a lover of school prayer who once ordered that textbooks "promoting" secular humanism be removed from classrooms, continued in the tone of a deluded white paternalist. He worried that the county voting district plan "indelibly brands any such minority as an identifiable minority and impedes its assimilation into the fabric of American society," and would require minorities "to remain in their 'Soweto's,' otherwise referred to as ghettoes" if they wanted to elect minority candidates. "This is contrary to the American ethic which presumes and encourages all people to believe they are equal before the law." I'm pretty sure that Dr. King wanted all people to actually  be equal before the law.

4. It is irrelevant under the 14th Amendment whether segregated or mixed schools produce better leaders. No court today would accept the suggestion that segregation is permissible because historically black colleges produced Booker T. Washington, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other prominent leaders. Likewise, the university’s racial discrimination cannot be justified on the ground that it will produce better leaders. ( Fisher v. University of Texas, 2013)

Thomas' logic here is based on the conservative belief that "diversity" is just a disingenuous codeword for affirmative action, and that any actual content that the concept of diversity might have is just a distraction from the lie.

5. Little Rock School District v. Special School District (1990), Comfort v. Lynn (Ma.) School Committee (2003).

6. Pope by Pope v. East Brunswick Bd. of Educ. (1993),  Doe ex rel. Doe v. Beaumont Ind. Sch. Dist. (1999); Canyon Ferry Baptist Church, East Helena v. Unsworth (2009).

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