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tv   Randall Kennedy Say It Loud  CSPAN  October 9, 2021 8:55pm-10:01pm EDT

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readers. >> welcome to the free library of philadelphia online. my name is jason freeman and i'm pleased to be or to introduce the next guest randall kennedy. celebrated for his courage and his convictions in tackling sensitive issues, randall
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kennedy is what the "washington post" calls a quote member of that small culture of our most lucid big thinkers about race. that michael klein professor at harvard law school he formally held positions at the united states court of appeals and at the u.s. supreme court where he clicked for thurgood marshall. his many books include interracial intimacies, persistence of the color line, discrimination. easier to met with his new book "say it loud!." he offers a collection of provocative essays in topics ranging from george floyd come birtherism, clarence thomas, antiracism and more. a review state that in almost everything about his views on race in america he is both resolutely temperate and probably right. so let's hop to it. randa, thank you for being here and the screen is all yours. >> thank you very much. i appreciate your offering this forum to me, and i look forward to the interacting with our
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audience about this collection of essays that has recently been published. i'm going to proceed i just describing some of the essays in this book. "say it loud!" is a collection of 29 essays. they are pieces of that were written over the past 20 years. some of the pieces, many of the pieces have been published before but i had gone over all of them, , even the ones that bn published before and i revised, i have updated, i have corrected. on occasion i have apologized for what i think were misjudgments, previous misjudgments.
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so all these essays really do contain my thinking as of, my current thinking, but i have certainly been happy to indicate places where my mind has changed over the years. but let me mention a couple of the essays in this book. let me begin with the first essay. the first essay is called shall we overcome? optimism and pessimism and african-american racial fought. and what i say in this essay is that racial thinking among black americans can be situated into two camps. this is just one way of trying to make sense of the very broad
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spectrum of african-american thinking. there are other ways of course in which one could try to make sense of this broad spectrum, this highly varied spectrum of thought, that this is just one way of doing it. what i say in this essay is you can discern two broad camps. one camp is the camp that says, that answers yes, we shall overcome, the optimistic tradition, the tradition that believes that we can in this country overcome the history of racism, the history of racial oppression, and that we can be, a multiracial republic in which people are considered equals.
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that's one view. another view is a pessimistic view, a point of view that says no, we shall not overcome. that racial hierarchy is baked into american life, and that racial hierarchy will prevail. it will continue. there will be no racial equality in the united states. there will not be a happy ending to the american racial soccer. now, let me go a little bit further into these two different camps. the optimistic camp is, well, in the 19th century the great
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spokesperson for the optimistic camp would be frederick douglass. frederick douglas, even before the abolition of slavery, even before the abolition of slavery frederick douglas was asked once can you foresee a time when people of different races will view one another as equal neighbors? d.c. such a time? he answered yes. yes, i do. this is before the abolition of slavery and this is coming from a person who bore the scars of slavery, this man was of course enslaved, ran away from slavery, new slavery intimately. new racism intimately. but he was an optimist even. things can change, people can change. we shall overcome.
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so frederick douglass and 19 century. in the 20th century the great spokesperson of, any optimistic tradition, the number of people but one person that i think stands out would be martin luther king, jr. think of i have a dream. or think of, so i have a dream, probably his most well-known utterance, but then one might also point to his last speech as a civil rights leader when he talked about hours before he was killed, i have been to the mountaintop and i've seen the promised land. i might not get there with you but but i have seen the promised land. he has in mind overcome them. he in mind reaching the promised
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land. in the 21st century, probably the most consequential racial optimist, was barack obama. barack obama where racial oppression, but yes, we can. and think of the night that he was elected president of the united states. all things are possible in america. very optimistic. a pessimistic camp, and the pessimistic camp in a way the pessimistic camp is more interesting actually than the optimistic camp. it certainly has a broad range of people. in the pessimistic camp, on the one hand, you have people like,
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well, alexis de tocqueville. alexis de tocqueville, obviously not a black american thinker. there are a number of white american thinkers that white americans or -- de tocqueville of course was from france who thought hard about the race question in america. and i talk about them and bring them into come in my come into my discussion about black american thinkers. my point is just like there have been, there were whites who were in the optimistic tradition, i didn't mention them but the white in optimistic tradition, there are white in the pessimistic tradition. among the most pessimistic thinkers about race are white observers.
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so alexis de tocqueville and democracy in america. de tocqueville had a chapter called the three races of america, the three races that he discussed, whites, blacks, native americans. and it's a very dark vision. de tocqueville said no, there will not be racial equality in the united states, never. even after slavery is done away with, there's not going to be racial equality. his basic theory was that the conjunction, the component on the one hand, racial difference, clear racial difference. and slavery. you put those two things together, even after slavery is abolished people will know who were the folks who weren't enslaved. he basically said i come from an
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aristocratic society. i come from a society that knows about packing orders. lady said in a society in which you can't tell who was who, just write off the back, you can't just look at somebody and look at the color of their skin and tell who was who. well, under those circumstances with enough change in society, enough time has passed, you don't know who was relegated to the lowest orders because you're going to always know that in america. so he had a very dark view. other pessimists, thomas jefferson. thomas jefferson in his notes on the state of virginia said we are never going to have racial equality in america. the people who were enslaved will always remember. they will have 1000 memories of
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the horrors of enslavement. and the whites will have the memory, too. jefferson very dark view. no, we are not going to overcome. abraham lincoln, one of the reasons why abraham lincoln was very interested in colonization throughout his adult life come very interested in colonization because he did not think that whites and blacks could occupy the united states on an equal basis and live together in harmony. so he was always very interested in the idea of black people going someplace else. going back to africa, going to panama, going someplace. but not staying in america. he thought this was actually to the good of everybody but
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especially for black people because he didn't think that white people would ever accommodate themselves to being on an equal basis with black people. among black americans in the pessimistic tradition you have black nationalists. marcus garvey, elijah muhammad, the nation of islam. in at least large faction, lack nationalists thinking. you are people who say this is a white man's country, has been from the beginning, will continue to be a white man's country. therefore, black people need to do something else. black people need to either have some sort of inward migration
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and develop a certain, you know, a separate identity within the united states, or leave the united states. there are plenty of black people, there is certainly been funding of efforts to leave the united states. now, where am i? where am i on this? this issue, optimism, pessimism has a a deep meaning to me because, largely because of my father. my father was a thoroughgoing pessimist, thoroughgoing pessimist. my father was born in louisiana and had a very tough upbringing. and saw many terrible things.
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he endured racist affronts. one of the racist affronts that i know last a scar with him had to do with the treatment of black american soldiers in world war ii. you know, he would talk about how black american soldiers wear the uniform of the united states, being willing to risk serious injury, even death in defense of the united states, those soldiers were told that they could not go to places where white german prisoners of war were allowed to go. my father thought that the united states of american had betrayed black americans.
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and he was not willing to forget or forgive what he perceived to be that terrible betrayal. and so he did not think we would overcome. he had a very dark vision and we talked about this in my household as i was growing up. so i was very aware of the pessimistic tradition. one wonderful thing about my dad, he had very strong feelings but he was not dictatorial. he wanted his children to be educated and he wanted them to develop ideas of their own and he gave space for the generation of alternative ideas. and i grew up becoming generally
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an optimist. and i have remained part of the optimistic camp, believing that the general trajectory of black america has been a trajectory up, you know, up here john hope franklin wonderful book on black american history, from slavery to freedom. that's generally been my view. and i a fan of, i revere the champions of racial justice. and my sense is that, you know, america of course has had a terrible history. but that's not all there is.
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it also has a glorious history of struggle against racism. there has been a long tradition of racists but there's also been a long tradition of anti-racists. and through heroic, persistent, intelligent struggle, things have been made better. so i have generally been an optimist. i ended this essay by talking, however, talking about how i have been shaped been over the past few years. i thought we were further down the road to racial decency than we are. frankly, the acidity of donald trump and the racial ideas that
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he tapped and that he encouraged, that he tolerated, i was really quite taken aback by that. i don't think i was sentimental. i knew that, i knew that there were racial resentments around of course but i did not know that those racial resentments would be as powerful as we've seen that they are. and so i still put myself in the optimistic camp, but i don't have the confidence that i once had. i am shaken with -- my optimism has been shaken.
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and a few years ago i used to be a rather chastising toward people who were basically pessimists. and i've had to change the tenor of my discussion of this issue. unfortunately, it's tragic. i think that i see our present and our future with, through a prism that is, has more uncertainty, more tragedy than in previous years. that was the first essay and one of the longer essays but i think it's one of the more important essays in the book.
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let me talk about my second one. second essay in the book is a essay called derrick bell and me. this is an essay that has never been published before. spent a lot of time on this essay. let me spend a little bit of time talking about derrick bell and me. derrick bell was the first black tenured professor at harvard law school. and he's been in the news lately because critical race theory, well, derrick bell is viewed by many who call themselves critical race there's is sort of the godfather of critical race theory. i have written an essay in which i discuss his ideas and i discussed my relationship with him. when i joined the faculty of harvard law school he was
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actually not there. he had been on the faculty when i i came he had left. he had left to be, the dean of the university of oregon law school. and that's where he was for my first few years on the faculty of harvard law school. and then he came back. when he came back, you know, we met and we talked. we were friendly. i had basically taken over a course that he had created. he had a course at harvard law school, popular course, well known course, race, racism in american law. i started teaching that course and i and i started writing articles about race relations law. and begin a relationship was so, it was an interesting relationship because, on one level we were friends, close
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friends. for one thing we shared, we had a tie that was a tragic tie. his first wife died because of cancer. and my wife, a blessed memory, was a cancer surgeon. and professor bell's wife was not one of my wife's patience, but we knew them and my wife talked with mrs. bell quite a bit and we would go visit in the hospital. years later, well, his wife died and then years later my wife died. so we had that in common. we had other things in common and we talked and we were quite
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friendly. he was very, , he was nice to me and a senior colleague. he encouraged me. he encouraged my work. he opened doors for me and i was very appreciative of that. one difficulty is that my views really diverged from his. so one big diversions was that over time he developed an idea -- he was a pessimist. i talked about the pessimistic tradition. derrick bell was a very important voice in the pessimistic tradition in the 20th century.
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he had the view. his view was that, you know, pigment talker see in america was a permanent condition. he was an activist. he was all for struggling to change things. but he basically said we need to struggle. this is an ethical matt matter. we need to try to see that justice is done. but his view was, realistically speaking, justice is not going to be done in america. we shall not overcome. well, i criticized his views, and i said well, you know, over the course of, you're not going to tell me that there's no difference between racial landscape in 1970 as opposed to let say 1950.
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i mean, what about the civil rights act of 1957? civil rights act of 1960, civil rights, civil rights act of 1964, voting rights act of 1965, open housing act of 1968? what about brown v. board of education, loving v. virginia come on and on and on? clearly there has been change in america, not as much as we would like, to be sure, but the idea that there's really been, the changes that have happened are merely peripheral. they don't really amount to a whole lot. i thought that was untenable and i said so. there were other ways in which we really differed. sometimes quite sharply.
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and he took after me in print and i took after him in print. and it led to some hard feelings. in this essay i talk about our relationship. so for instance, just one more thing with this. i wrote a piece once in which i criticized some of his thinking. i criticized the thinking of some other people who are identified now with critical race theory. i sent in my article ahead of time just to give his views. here's what i have written. i would be really interested in your reactions, and he wrote me a letter back and he said, he gave me his reactions and then he said, i urge you strongly not to publish this. the ideas that you voice will be
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harmful and you don't need to publish it. don't publish it. well, i published it and he really felt that against me. i talk about why i published it and all of that. let me give the ending. the ending of the essay talks about our, , the way we ended u. late in his life i heard that he was very ill, and i called him up. i basically said listen, i hear you are under the weather, but do know that from afar i am pulling for you. we had a very nice talk. and then a bit later he called me up and he said listen, i'm really quite ill.
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would you be interested in teaching a session of a seminar that i'm giving? by this time he had left harvard law school. he famously resigned from harvard law school in protest. harvard law school when he resigned have not, did not have any black women on its faculty. he put that in an ultimatum. listen, harvard law school, by a certain time he better have hired a black woman, and if you have not, i'm not going to teach anymore. he stood by his ultimatum and altmann left harvard law school and went to new york university law school and that is where he was teaching at the end of his career, the end of his life.
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and i went to teach this session. and i taught it and i taught it one week after he had passed away. we did have one final conversation on the phone, and i was able to express my gratitude to him and my deep respect for him. and i think at the very end i think we were able to reach our reconciliation which was very meaningful to me and one of the reasons why i wanted to write this essay is my effort to show, pay my respects to derrick bell and one of the ways in which you want to pay my respects to him was to be open, be candid, say
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where i agreed with them but also say where i disagreed with him. i think you show respect to a thinker by taking their ideas seriously, seriously enough to criticize, and that's what i attempted to do in this essay. there are a bunch, like i said, there are 29 essays. there's an essay about the events of last summer, the george floyd moment, promise and peril. there's an essay about the struggles on various university campuses regarding memorialization. do you keep the name john c. calhoun likes that was an issue at yale. do you keep the name at my alma mater princeton university, the keep the name woodrow wilson?
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do you demote the name? do you take the name off of the school, off of a building? this is an issue that's come up over and over various places and i get my ideas about that. i talk about justice clarence thomas whom i harshly criticize. i haven't essay, well, i think the title would give you a hint of where i stand. why clarence thomas ought to be ostracized. i have a long piece about the great thurgood marshall and i really, i got a lot of pleasure out of writing that piece. i clerked for justice marshall in the 1983-1984 supreme court term. it four supreme court term. it was one of the highlights of my life. and i talk about thurgood
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marshall's career in that essay. and again there are other pieces in this collection but i think i have given you a a sufficient, i've been talking long enough. i've given you a sufficient sense of the sorts of things that i cover in this collection. why don't we now turn to your questions? and turn this monologue into a dialogue. thank you so much for listening to me. and now i look forward to interacting with you through questions and answers. and by all means objections. i can imagine that some of you object to something that i've said or object to something i've written, and the floor is open to objections as well, so thank you. >> i brought my gavel here so i can overrule any objections.
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let's see. marianne, okay, here's a softball to begin with. i'm going straight down the list. perhaps a a bit off-topic butm curious who the artist of the pieces who painted the pieces that are behind you? >> those are romer bearden, and those are romer bearden prince. my wife of blessed memory was an artist as well as a surgeon and was, you know, the art world was a big interest of hers and so that's what's in back of me. >> okay. so in the spirit of jones of the free african society richard allen of the ame church, softball strike to. of the fifth pan african
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congress 1945, black political convention, okay, so the question here is where you present, if a specific date, monday, october, 1995 in washington, d.c.? what are your thoughts about the resilience of african people in america? what thoughts can you clean from these? i think there's a lot of questions in here. >> not altogether sure what the question is. i mean, the references were to, i guess a version of the black nationalist tradition, and in my essay on optimism and pessimism i talk about the black nationalists strain within the pessimistic tradition.
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destructive reaction that throws black people back. but black people get it together and are able to husband their resources, organize and build a movement that leads to a second reconstruction. ..
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a desire for decency, for the realization for everyone. there are so many things that are part of american life that are attributable to black people's struggles. let me talk about another essay in my book, one that i had a lot of funwriting .
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the six essay. how black students brought the constitution tocampus . and he's very astute. before 1960, before 1960, students at public universities had virtually no constitutional rights. as a matter of law, a student at a public university could be tossed out by the authorities of the university any time. students were basically on campus at will. this changed. this changed in the early 1960. the key case, sort of the breakthrough case was a case called st. john dixon versus alabama state board of
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education. what happened was st. john dixon and some other black students at alabama state college engaged in a sit in. they went to a courthouse. this was in montgomery alabama. in this courthouse was an eating facility that was segregated. they sat in to protest. the governor of the state heard about this, calls of the president of alabama state college and says throw these students out. expel them. and the governor made it clear that he meant business that unless these students were immediately expelled, the institution would be put in danger. the president expelled them. they fought back they took
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the university to court, they took the state to court. they lost in the federal district court level.then they appealed their case to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit. the court of appeals reversed and it said these students were at least, the students were entitled to at least a hearing. it's not clear they're going to prevail but there at least entitled to a hearing. you can't just summarily expel them. that was the beginning of the idea of students at public universities have constitutional rights . one more case 40 years later in 1960. four years later in 1964, some high school students in mississippi, black high school students go to school wearing a button. freedom button.
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the button had asked mcc on it. student nonviolent coordinating committee and it also had one man, one vote. he's wearing his button. the principle of the school tells the students you can either stay here but you've got to take the button off. if you keep the button on, go home. some students took the button off and some students said we're not taking it off. and they were dismissed, they were sent home . they and their parents got lawyers and sued. saying that there first amendment rights have been violated. this was completely novel. this was novel. they wanted the district court level but again the united states court of
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appeals reversed and said there's no evidence that they're disrupting anything. there's no evidence that the mere wearing of this button is undercutting the executive mission of the highschool . so long as the students are not disrupting anything they should be able to express themselves at school. well, there was a supreme court case 10 years later. tinker versus des moines independent school district. that case was much more famous. that was the case involving students who were wearing an armband protesting the vietnam war and people think about the constitutional's, the constitutional rights for high school students. they think of anchor and previous to tinker, was the action taken by these black students from the deep south.
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one can go on and on that, how struggle of black people in america has led to the betterment of society for everyone. >> this is an interesting question . this person roland would like to know what you talk about your courtship of thurgood marshall and what intellectual path was established or did he guide you on? intellectually, academically speaking, that sort of thing . >> like i said before justice marshall was one of the highlights of my life. he his name was a name that was quite, he was spoken of with just reverence in my
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household. my father saw thurgood marshall argue a case in 1938 . very interesting case called rice versus elmore. and what the case was about and prior to this case, prior to 1947, in south carolina, black people were not permitted to participate in the primaries of the democratic party. this was very important because you know, south carolina was at that time basically a one-party state. the primary was the important election. lever one a democratic party primary, that was the person who was going to occupy
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whatever seat was being contested. and the democratic party of south carolina with the schools, this is only for white people. that was now put into jeopardy by a case. smith versus all right. 1944 case in which the texas white primary was invalidated by the supreme court of the unitedstates . south carolina responded. south carolina tried to get around smith versus all right in various ways that i don't need to get into here they tried to evade smith versus all right. and george elmore, a black man sought to vote.
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he wasn't permitted to vote and he sued. and a federal court struck down the white primary in south carolina. my father saw. marshall argue the case and he talked a lot about just going to see mister civil rights. he was, he talked about how people in the deep south troubled, something would happen. people would say hold on. there are goods coming. and so i heard about thurgood marshall so when i worked for thurgood marshall it was great. it was a thrill. let me go back a moment. my father was not a lawyer. my father worked atthe post office . he did not really talk much about the legal issue involved in rights versus
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elmore but he did talk about this. the thing that struck him the most was this will show how you know, has there been changed? my father was struck by the fact that the people in the courtroom called thurgood marshall mister marshall. that stopped in my father's mind because in under the etiquette of jim crow, black men were not calledmister . a black physician might be called doctor so-and-so. a black minister might be called reverend so-and-so. but a black man just as an ordinary parlance which is ordinary interaction was not called mister it wasa big thing .
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they called him mister marshall. he was clearly the most impressive person in the courthouse, in the courtroom and you know, again i heard about the these and so i worked for justice marshall and i learned a lot from him. i asked lots of questions. one of the great things about justice marshall, he was very willing to talk . you loveto tell stories . and his stories often had a message to them. the message that he gave, one of the lessons was that law is important. sure, law is important. it's not the only thing though that's important and one must be very realistic about the limits of the law. he talked a lot about the limits of the law. so did i bring, and had some
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of the lessons that i gleaned from my timewith thurgood marshall, have they stuck with me , having affected the way i go aboutmy work ? the answer is yes. >> so two very timely thingsi want to make sure that we get to . tonight and that are asked by people. so mary and says that you take on voter restriction laws. some people might not call them that. we don't need to be political about that passed around this country. when you see these laws as race related and if so, what does it say about the future? i guess i would say to that how do we approach these laws in regards to i don't know, how we move forward as a country. >> you put your finger on a very troubling development.
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there has been and a long standing resistance to black participation in the political sphere. we've seen it over and over again and we're seeing another iteration of that. one of the things that's i think i guess especially troubling especially caramel is that earlier, in the last century, the supreme court certainly in the last half of the last century, the supreme court would use its authority
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to you know, strikes down racial disfranchisement. and various ruses that amounted to racial disfranchisement. now, unfortunately we have a supreme court of the united states that is at best indifferent to these illicit efforts to restrict voting. the worst of course was its ruling several years ago shelby county versus holder was where the supreme court of the united states eviscerated the voting rights act of 1965. i think that was 2013.
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that case, that decision, 5 to 4 decision, that was a judicial delinquency. that will go down as one of the more disgraceful judicial delinquencies in the history of this country. so i'm worried, i'm very worried about the voting, the effort to discourage people from voting. is it racial? clearly it's racial. is it only racial, it's not only race. there's partisanship. partisan gerrymandering.
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race is often not the only thing going on, but is race a big ingredient in this terrible do? answer, yes. >> briefly and that was the other thing that you touched on. and you were talking on briefly. it was the current state of the supreme court. there was an article today saying a justice, a conservative justice has retired to create perhaps a better balance on the court. and people are approaching that question and are talking about this here. do you see a way back to parity on the supreme court anytime soon? is there a remedy? >> the supreme court of the united states is at the top of one of the three branches
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of the federal government. it is a powerful law giving institution, just like the presidency, just like the congress. it is political, just like the presidency, just like the congress. a lot of people have this sentimental unrealistic notion that the court is above politics and of course members of the court tell the public that. they tried to make the public believe that. they are articulately, they articulate that you. the chief justice during his confirmation hearing talked about well, the justices are merelyumpires . players. ridiculous.
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similarly ridiculous are the statements made by theliberal of the supreme court, justice breyer . justice breyer published a book in which he talks about the perils of politics and the justices are outside of politics. again, ridiculous. it's a political matter it's going to be a political struggle . the ideological complexions of the supreme court of the united states will be determined by political struggle. that's the way it has been. that's the way it will be. so the idea of trying to create reforms that will take the supreme court out of politics seems to me that that's known, what you need to do is have politics, good politics will result in good
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justices. who will be in favor of good policy. will it be political? yes, but at least it will be good as opposed to bad and right now, unfortunately we are saddled with a bad, a reactionary supreme court that is a friend certainly a friend of big business. a friend of those on top. a friend of frankly some of the worst aspects of our status quo. and it's in different or unfriendly certainly to organized labor.unfriendly towards people who have been marginalized, unfriendly towards people who are trying to change our country in a
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substantial way. ways that are very needed. we need substantial change. and the supreme court unfortunately has presently constituted is going to stand in the way, is going to be an obstacle, going to be an impediment. it's not going to be a source of assistance for those who are trying to reform our country. though our country is so deeply in need of reform. >> i think this is a great lead into our very last question denise and it's good to end on a note like this. what makes you stayoptimistic ? >> well, i'm going to end with the story involving justice marshall. near the end of 1983 84 term
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there was a case i believe a death penalty case. justice marshall had very deep feelings and was a death penalty abolitionist. he thought the death penalty was unconstitutional and he said that. there was a death penalty case and the prisoner was an exhausted all of his legal avenues. for all of his keys for relief had been denied. and i was talking with the justice and he says estes marshall, you really are on the losing end of a lot of the things that are most important to you. don't you get discouraged? and he said to me, he said two things. number one, you should remember that in much of my career as an attorney. with respect to equal protection cases, my lead
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case was plessy versus ferguson. separate but equal. everybody now, plessy versus bergeson, the idea of separate but equal is bad. he says, i tried to ring out as much equality from that myth. that terrible myth of separate but equal. i tried to ring out as much equality as i could. and he did ring out. even with plessy versus ferguson he was able to advance a bit. remember that. even when you're being dealt bad cards, even when things are against you, even under those circumstances, you can find tools to use to advance.
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and secondly he said remember, this is not a sprint. this is a marathon. so i discouraged? no, i'm not discouraged. sometimes i get disappointed but you've got to take the long view. you've got to keep pushing. and i've taken back on board. i think that's a good way to view it . >> thank you and i can't think of a better way to end tonight and i'd like to thank you for joining us and thank everybody at home. yes, we encourage you to purchase a book. it's called
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