Supreme Court? Supreme Problem

By Tammy Johnson Apr 26, 2007

When I was a community organizer in Milwaukee, crafting the campaign plan was straightforward. Do the groundwork of going door-to-door, to churches and community events to educate people on the issue. Then mobilize them to move our target –testifying at a city council meeting or holding a rally at the school district administration offices. Make our demand clear when pressing for the vote or the decision from the gatekeeper. And present a strong unified front with allies at decision making time. Educate. Move. Pressure. Well it’s a new day. The harsh reality is that you can work for months, even years to win a local battle, only to have it unraveled in seconds by a state law, a Federal mandate, or a court decision. Despite all of the mouthing off Republicans do about hating big government, after nearly eight years of Bush W’s rule, big brother is all up in our business like never before. And those most vulnerable to the affects of these policy invasions are communities of color. Take last week’s Supreme Court decision on Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood and Gonzales v. Carhart, regarding partial-birth abortions. Despite the ongoing legal and legislative challenges from anti-abortion opponents, health advocates have begun to make some headway in the reproductive rights and health arena. But last Tuesday’s Court decision could possibly propel us back to the pre-Roe era, especially when it comes to the well being of women of color. Rocio Córdoba Executive Director of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice is right when she says, "By failing to recognize the health, safety and autonomy of all women, the Gonzales decision creates yet another legal barrier to the health and well-being of our communities.” But our worries won’t end there. In the upcoming months, that 5 to 4 split on U. S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board decision, with the Crystal D. Meredith, Custodial Parent and Next Friend of Joshua Ryan McDonald v. Jefferson County Board of Education cases. And validation of Toledo-Flores v. United States will further criminalize immigrant communities and potentially derail efforts to promote treatment over incarceration for people charged with non-violent drug offenses. Civil rights, criminal justice and public education are a few issues that the current docket of the Court is primed to rip into, thus side-tracking the hard work of numerous groups across the county. Purely legal strategies on the left are bound for defeat when conservatives are perfectly happy driving any issue to a Court they find Supremely friendly. Our campaign plans must be more dynamic now than ever before. A smart campaign strategy keeps its feet on the ground locally, has a hand in matters at the state capitol, and keeps an eye on Congress and the Courts. It’s not easy. Funders must understand the necessity of this and be willing to invest the resources in groups serving and lead by people of color. There must also be leadership that consciously builds its capacity to multi-task at this level. And finally we must also be willing to push the policy envelope so that our demands don’t cave-in to shortsighted, so-called politically practical demands. I’m beginning to see evidence of this with groups across the country. Communities of color are making their voices heard at statehouses, and challenging the inertia of their Congressional delegations. And with future Supreme Court appointments in the balance, the 2008 Presidential election is priority one for many more. For more information on the U.S. Supreme Court Docket, go to: