Notes about the Law

The years immediately before World War One, then known as The Great War, were known in America as the Age of Optimism.  Progressive idealism was on the rise, but it is, of course, more complicated than that.  Woodrow Wilson, a progressive in many ways, was also sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan and was mesmerized by D.W. Griffith’s Birth of A Nation, a film glorifying the Klan as modern day knights and saviors.  The Klan was merely doing what was right, bravely defending the south’s honor, particularly the honor of its white women,  against the savage Negro, unaccountably vindictive, brutal and prone to raping, according to the film.   “History written in lightning” gushed Wilson after screening the film at the White House.  Klan membership soared during the Age of Optimism.

This “Second Klan” was also instrumental in the passage of the constitutional amendment that resulted in Prohibition, allying itself with the anti-immigrant wing of the temperance movement.  The Klan burned down bars, beat up or lynched distillers, tippling Italians, Jews, Negroes, what have you.    Meantime Wilson was drumming up American support for the glorious adventure in Europe with the brilliant, cynical, highly effective Committee for Public Information, also known as the Creel Committee, headed by the foremost advertising genius of the day, George Creel.   The progressive Wilson also passed the now infamous Espionage Act of 1917, a law designed to gag his political opponents.   A few years later, at the height of Klan membership (over 2 million proud, card carrying, sheet wearing assholes) the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed, restricting immigration. 

The Age of Optimism would not survive the colossal carnage of The Great War and the events that followed.   It was replaced by the Roaring Twenties, the modernist overthrow of the old ways in an era of wild stock market speculation that could create sudden wealth.   This was happening against the backdrop of widespread lawless consumption of recently criminalized alcohol.   Organized crime was born and criminal fortunes and empires built attendant thereto, then — The Great Depression.  Oh, well.   The generals of our eternal War on Drugs do not see any connection, no lesson of history to be learned here.  Oh, well.

   ii

I heard an interesting discussion of the history of the Fourteenth Amendment, on a non-partisan podcast by the National Constitution Center.  Two constitutional scholars discussed the creation and passage of the post Civil War amendment that ensures no state can deny any American the full rights, privileges, immunities and equal protection of the law.  Neither the scholars nor Jeffrey Rosen, CEO of the Center, mentioned the ninety year judicially imposed coma of the Fourteenth Amendment.  I think they should have.   The Supreme Court nullified the amendment and supporting laws less than ten years after the Fourteenth Amendment became the law of the land.. 

I originally thought “racist Supreme Court judges, the same bitches who decided the sickeningly slavery embracing Dred Scott case in 1857 decided the fate of the 14th Amendment”.  A quick query on google, to Wikipedia, showed me that the Supreme Court had a different composition by 1873 and that a new majority voted to nullify the 14th Amendment’s protections.   Men did not live that long back then.   The second majority ruled that the amendment and its protections simply did not apply, for a convoluted series of uninteresting judicial reasons, to the states of the former confederacy, or to any state.  

Writing for the majority one justice declared that, in any case, the white slaughters who brought the cases against Louisiana were not even the intended beneficiaries of the amendment.   Former slaves were, and as for them, the Negroes were done being the “special favorites of the law” after almost a decade of freedom.   Not until an 1868 enforcement law made under the Fourteenth Amendment was revived in the federal case brought against the Klan members who killed Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman in Mississippi, almost a century after its Supreme Court nullification, was the 14th Amendment ever enforced as originally intended.

The aptly named Slaughterhouse Cases that signaled the end of enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment are often described quite blandly, as in this circumspect example:

The Slaughterhouse Cases represented a temporary reversal in the trend toward centralization of power in the federal government. More importantly, in limiting the protection of the privileges and immunities clause, the court unwittingly weakened the power of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect the civil rights of blacks.   source

Temporary (only ninety years or so).  Unwittingly.   Like  Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, like the recent 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is no longer necessary, since racism is now officially dead here in the USA!  USA!!!!   As proven by the election of an illegitimate Kenyan Muslim to our nation’s highest office.  USA!   USA!!!!  Nothing to see here.  History is fake.  Get Kavanaugh in there before the Republicans commanding 51-49 majority in the Senate is overturned in the upcoming elections.   Hurry, hurry!   

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