The unconstitutionality of segregation is one of the most fundamental principles in all of American law. Even under the guise of “separate but equal,” segregated public restrooms, schools, restaurants and theaters are inevitably and inherently unequal, particularly when one group of people has the exclusive authority to dictate the terms of segregation.
That fact may be obvious to us today, but it took a Supreme Court ruling in 1954 to finally enshrine the principle into law. In Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, future Justice Thurgood Marshall successfully argued before the high court that any attempts by the state to segregate schools violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
The court agreed, ruling that, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” That ruling paved the way for the dismantling of all segregation laws across the country, and it’s been universally celebrated as one of the sparks that ignited the civil rights movement. Segregation has been dead ever since, an embarrassing relic of the past confined to history books.
Or so we thought. Donald Trump’s shock victory in the 2016 presidential election has inspired alt-right racists and white supremacists to rise up and openly challenge the social progress American society has achieved over the last half century.
In the middle of this backlash, the debate over segregation is suddenly alive again, to point where a candidate for the federal bench feels perfectly comfortable questioning the wisdom of the milestone Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that struck it down.
Wendy Vitter, President Trump’s nominee for the Eastern District of Louisiana court, faced her first round of Senate confirmation hearings Wednesday, and she declined to say whether or not she believed the Supreme Court’s decision that found “separate but equal” unconstitutional was the correct ruling.
“Do you believe that Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided?” Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked her.
“I don’t mean to be coy,” she opened, before spiraling into a waffling, noncommittal answer. “I think I get into a difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions—which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with. Again, my personal, political, or religious views I would set aside.”
“That is Supreme Court precedent,” she continued. “It is binding. If I were honored to be confirmed, I would be bound by it and of course I would uphold it.”
Not satisfied, the clearly aghast Sen. Blumenthal asked the question again. Vitter doubled down on her evasiveness.
“Again, I would respectfully not comment on what could be my bosses ruling—the Supreme Court—I would be bound by it, and if I start commenting on ‘I agree with this case’ or ‘don’t agree with this case’ I think we get into a slippery slope.”
Slippery indeed. If she and others like her keep this up, we may slip right back to the Jim Crow era.
You can watch the disturbing exchange between Wendy Vitter and Sen. Richard Blumenthal below.
WATCH: During her confirmation hearing this morning (yes, this morning – in 2018), judicial nominee Wendy Vitter refused to say whether she agreed with the result in Brown v. Board of Education. #UnfitToJudge pic.twitter.com/RWroh0XUIC
— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) April 11, 2018