The Constitution Is A Shield For Civil And Human Rights

It’s shaping up to be a hot summer in D.C.—and for reasons 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 shout 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. However, 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, Virginia. 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 has 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 extra-ordinary 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 has made them possible.

Whenever obstacles stood in the way— including segregation and other evil Jim Crow laws— it was the Constitution that cast them aside. Liberty? The Constitution grants it in its very first sentence. Slavery? It was abolished by the Constitution in its 13th Amendment. Citizenship? You can find that in the Constitution, too— it’s right there in the 14th Amendment. So is our right to vote, which is made clear for all to see in the Constitution’s 15th Amendment.

That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that Judge Kavanaugh— like all who do or may serve on the Supreme Court— is faithful to the Constitution.

Simply put, being true to the Constitution is the key to our democracy. It’s more important than any single issue, any political party, or any partisan interest. Indeed, there is nothing more important than upholding the document that established and secures our rights.

That’s why the Constitution grants judges the power to determine whether a law is constitutional— not the power to make or change it.

Good judges know this. They know they have to fulfill their awesome duty without ever overstepping it. Bad judges don’t. They inject their own preferences into the law, they pick favorite issues and sides, and they invent new reasons to rule the way they want.

Bad judges denied blacks equal rights in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case of 1857, I mentioned above. They banned interracial marriage in the 1883 case, Pace v. Alabama; and they institutionalized segregation with the “separate, but equal” doctrine in 1896 with Plessy v. Ferguson.

In each of those cases, bad judges put their own racist views ahead of the

Constitution’s protections. They were wrong— and that’s why, in each case, they were overruled by later Supreme Court justices who were faithful to the Constitution.

And it’s because Judge Kavanaugh has proven throughout his career to be 100 percent faithful to the Constitution that he has my total support. Not for his sake, but for ours.

Kay Coles James is the president of The Heritage Foundation. You can follow Kay on Twitter @KayColesJames.

Our Children Are At Risk!

I’m sure President Obama’s heart was in the right place.

A few years ago, his Department of Education, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, studied school discipline data and came to a troubling conclusion: African American students in the 2011-12 school year had been suspended or expelled at a rate three times higher than white students.

This news sent shock waves throughout the community and government. There were already concerns of a “school-to-prison pipeline” that funneled disadvantaged children to jail. Now, there was renewed agreement that things had to change.

And so, in 2014, the Departments of Education and Justice put public schools on notice. If they suspended or expelled students of any racial group more than any other, they could face a federal investigation. In place of discipline to punish bad behavior, they were urged to use positive reinforcement instead.

As the grandmother of five school-age kids, I watched this closely. And as one of the black students who integrated an all-white Richmond, Va., school in 1961, I was hopeful.

I hoped this policy would lead to safer schools. I prayed it would help students get a better education and I felt confident it would open the door to a brighter future for our kids. But like so many other parents and grandparents, I was wrong.

The federal government’s warning had an immediate impact. Schools across America quickly changed their discipline policies and reduced their suspension and expulsion rates. In doing so, they avoided the investigation threatened by the President but at the same time, they put our children at risk.

Today, kids who bully and assault their classmates too often do so without fear of punishment. They know teachers have lost control and they realize they can get away with behavior that never used to be tolerated.

As a result, when this summer is over, many students will once again face the fear of going back to school.

That’s a tragedy! Schools should be joyous places where learning takes place. That’s what my classmates’ and I fought for in 1961— and it’s what should be the reality today. Instead, danger lurks behind schoolhouse doors.

Joevon Smith is a heartbreaking example. A 17-year-old student with special needs who attended Ballou High School in Washington, D.C., Joeven was beaten up in his classroom and sprayed with a chemical. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, but never recovered. A few weeks after his brutal assault, Joevon died.

According to media reports, Joevon’s assailants wanted to steal his cell phone. That may be so. But because they were repeat offenders, loosened school discipline policies are also at fault.

That’s the case up the road in Baltimore, too. There, Jared Haga (age 10) and his 12-year-old sister Tamar have been bullied and threatened with violence. Tamar has even been sexually harassed and assaulted. In school!

As chronicled by “The Daily Signal,” Jared and Tamar’s mother tried to get this to stop. But when she complained to the principal, she was told nothing would— or could— be done.

Joevon, Jared, and Tamar aren’t alone. According to numerous reports, public schools are now less orderly and more dangerous. As Walter E. Williams has observed, the policy President Obama put into place has allowed “miscreants and thugs to sabotage the education process.”

Teachers apparently agree. In anonymous surveys, they describe how badly school safety has deteriorated. As one stated, “We have fights here almost every day. The kids walk around and say ‘We can’t get suspended— we don’t care what you say.’”

The sentiment was echoed by another teacher who said, “Students are yelling, cursing, hitting and screaming at teachers and nothing is being done but teachers are being told to teach and ignore the behaviors. These students know there is nothing a teacher can do.”

This is crazy. Every child deserves to get the tools they need to make their dreams come true. But if they are too scared to focus, they won’t get them. Many will drop out, limiting their chance to get a job, raise a family, and pursue their life goals.

All because directives from Washington have made school districts fear they’ll be investigated for keeping their classrooms safe.

We can’t bring Joevon back, and Jared and Tamar may never forget the trauma they’ve experienced. But we can take action to fix the mistake that has been made.

For starters, the Education and Justice Departments’ school discipline policy should be rescinded. And if any threats

remain, every family should be empowered with school choice so they can choose safer learning options for their children.

I know President Obama meant well, but his administration’s action was wrong. So it’s now time to make things right. Our children should be at risk no more.

Kay Coles James is the president of The Heritage Foundation. You can follow her on Twitter @KayColesJames