The constitution is a shield for civil and human rights

Kay Coles James | 8/15/2018, 7:41 p.m.
It’s shaping up to be a hot summer everywhere—and for reasons having nothing to do with the weather. In a ...

It’s shaping up to be a hot summer everywhere—and for having nothing to do with the weather.

In a few weeks, the Senate will decide whether a D.C. Circuit Court judge named Brett Kavanaugh should be the nation’s next Supreme Court justice. And from my office window, I can already hear the battle cries.

Kavanaugh’s opponents describe him as a “threat to our democracy.” They are shouting that “the future of America is at stake.” And they warn his confirmation will “turn the clock back on our rights.”

Having been around politics for decades, I tend to ignore a lot of this type of stuff. But when someone says the clock may be turned back on our rights, it gets my attention.

I’ve been involved in the battle for civil rights most of my life. As a 12-year-old student back in 1961, I helped integrate a Whites-only school in Richmond, Va. As a college student at Hampton Institute (now University), I protested for student rights. As a young mom, I volunteered with Housing Opportunities Made Equal to fight racism and achieve equal access. And as Virginia’s Secretary for Health and Human Resources, I fought for empowerment reform that helped low-income men and women achieve the pride and dignity of employment.

So I took the ‘rollback of civil rights’ line seriously and looked into it. And what I found out just might surprise you.

Judge Kavanaugh has been a steadfast supporter of civil rights, because he has been consistently faithful to the Constitution. For example, during his 2006 Senate confirmation for the D.C. Circuit Court, he said:

“…some of the worst moments in the Supreme Court's history have been moments of judicial activism, like the Dred Scott case…where the Court went outside its proper bounds, in my judgment, in interpreting clauses of the Constitution to impose its own policy views.”

That means that, when questions have come before him, he hasn’t answered them with a “here’s what I personally think” type of answer. Instead, he’s addressed them with a “here’s what the Constitution has to say” ruling.

And that speaks volumes about the type of Justice he will be.

You see, the U.S. Constitution is the very reason we even have a thing called ‘civil rights.’ Before America was born, the world was a very different place. How a person lived depended on where they were born, who their parents and grandparents were, how rich they were, and so on. If you were born poor, you were likely to stay poor. And if you were a minority in your country, you were unlikely to ever have equal treatment under their laws.

America was created to be an exception to the global norm that limited freedom, curtailed liberties, denied due process, and caused poverty to persist across generations. We had to overcome huge obstacles, of course, but the extraordinary achievements we’ve realized would not have been possible without our Constitution.

Instead of being a sword against freedom and rights, the Constitution has been the shield that’s made them possible.