February 3, 2022

Black History Month is a Time to Celebrate, Continue Fight for Multiracial Democracy

Russ Feingold President

Russ Feingold
ACS President Russ Feingold

This week marks the start of Black History Month. February is an opportunity to highlight and celebrate Black people’s enormous contributions to history and to this country, both past and present. And part of this is to recognize that Black history month is every month; it encapsulates this country’s ongoing struggle to become a genuinely multiracial democracy. Black history highlights progress made and the many times, ongoing times, when our country has fallen short of its promise.

Soon we will have the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court. Of the 115 people who have served on the Supreme Court, only five have been women, and only three have been people of color. This is to say that our Supreme Court has never reflected the diversity of the public it serves, permanently undermining the Court’s democratic legitimacy. As ACS’s Executive Vice President Zinelle October wrote in Politico this week:

“The nomination and confirmation of one Black woman justice will not ... change the Supreme Court’s current conservative agenda. However, it will impact how people like me perceive the court.

Justices inevitably bring to their jobs their life experiences. Right now, when the justices sit down to deliberate on cases, my lived experience is not reflected at that table. As the court settles on decisions that will shape my life, my lived experience is left out of the room.

Adding a Black woman to the court will mean that my lived experience, and those like mine, is part of the conversation when the justices deliberate. When the court does issue its decisions, however much I might disagree with them, I’ll know that someone like me was involved. It will impact how I perceive the court and its decisions.”

While we celebrate the anticipated first Black woman justice, we are also seeing every day the continued harm of racism and the ramifications of not grappling with slavery’s legacy as a country. This week, 13 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) received bomb threats. It is disgusting to see our HBCUs receive these threats, which are meant to inspire fear and to silence the Black community. Such attacks are part of a long history of targeted violence at Black people and institutions, underscoring the racial oppression that has and still shapes daily life in this country.

On my first day on the job as ACS President, I visited Howard Law School to meet with our chapter there and to hear about their work. One of our chapter members noted that the rule of law has not and often still does not work for Black people in this country. I think about that exchange often and the challenge in it to focus less on preserving the rule of law and more on transforming the rule of law to protect a genuinely multiracial democracy. It was an honor to rejoin our Howard Law School chapter and their crosstown colleagues in the University of DC chapter last week for a fantastic conversation on the fight against originalism, the filibuster, voting rights, judicial nominations and court reform.

HBCUs are critically important to the legal community and have had enormous impact on strengthening our civil rights and liberties. Many giants of Black History got their start at an HBCU, including Vice President Kamala Harris (Howard), Thurgood Marshall (Howard), Stacey Abrams (Spelman), and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Morehouse), to name just a few.

It is no coincidence that threats to HBCUs are resurging as a wave of regressive attacks on academic freedom sweeps state legislatures. According to the African American Policy Forum, “[a]s of MLK Day 2022, January 17th, thirty states have introduced some form of gag order measure with respect to racial justice, critical race theory, and the teaching of racial injustice in American history, with sixteen states having fully passed some version of them.” It is vitally important that we teach students about those who marched and what they were marching for, those who broke barriers and how those barriers were erected in the first place. We cannot dismantle white supremacy in our laws and our institutions without an honest examination of the past and the present.

These continued struggles to reckon with our history and achieve racial equity underscore the need for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT). In honor of Black History Month, Peggy Li, our Director of Chapters, spoke with Dr. Marcus Hunter this week on Broken Law to discuss the movement for reparations, and how it works with and alongside TRHT. I encourage you to listen to the episode on our website or wherever you get your podcasts.

This month, I hope you will join ACS in celebrating the many heroes of Black History who have come before us, lifting up those making history now, and in committing to the important work of Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation.