It’s interesting that a nation claiming to extol doctrines of equality and justice has at the same time such trouble in dealing with the glaringly obvious fact that this “just aint the case”. Every day injustice disparity and discrimination “routinely” take place within its very own political institutions, courts, law enforcement agencies, bureaucracies, businesses, banks, colleges, schools, media… and the list goes on until finally ending in the hearts and minds of the very citizens that these principles were fashioned to protect. Then as is so often the case when injustices and suffering happens to others, not affecting me or mine they pass with little notice, to be filed under “not our concern”. “Out of sight and out of mind” the saying goes which is fine for many things… but a formula for disaster with [others] and this issue is one of those.
Anyone familiar with this nation’s history knows of or has even read the first ten Amendments to the US Constitution also known as the Bill of Rights. This document lays out the framework and guiding principles protecting our civil rights. It does this mainly by way of “negative-rights” that is to say rights to be free from something or [not] have things done to us or our property thus protecting us from certain governmental actions or inactions. And despite the fact these rights are guaranteed us in this document they are not necessarily provided to us. For example the constitutionally protected right to bail for all US citizens vs. what actually happens when bail is provided according to certain standards such as being employed, although every defendant is considered eligible for it, only those with employment are freed to await trial. Meaning those without employment remain incarcerated despite not having been tried, or convicted of a crime.
Further instances include “justly enacted unjust laws” such as can be found in the Constitution upholding and protecting the “de jure right” to own slaves which remained in force until Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865. Or in decisions such as Plessy v. Ferguson 163 US 537 (1896) which held up the “right” of private citizens to discriminate based on the doctrine of “separate but equal”. Back then in many southern states the lynching of African-Americans was a common occurrence… a cold-blooded murder for which virtually no one was ever arrested or tried let alone convicted.
Thus the guarantees in the Constitution are more like abstract ideals which for many depending on their situation may or may not actually apply. You know like those credit card offers guaranteeing one is pre-approved, you can send it in but the guarantee is only good if you meet their criteria.
Rule according to higher law. (2012, August 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:39, September 8, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Rule_according_to_higher_law&oldid=509182352
- Defining Equal Protection (blogs.lawyers.com)
- Plessy vs Ferguson Case Study (freecasestudy.wordpress.com)
- Ryan Walters: The Thirteenth Amendment ‘Exception’ to the State Action DoctrineMichael Ramsey (originalismblog.typepad.com)
- Brown v. Board of Education and Equal Protection (blogs.lawyers.com)