In many ways, the actions of the United States Supreme Court over the past few years serve as a model of what not to do if you are a Tennessee judge seeking to build public confidence in our courts. of state.
The Supreme Court continues to issue hostile, unsigned, eleventh-hour rulings with little or no transparency through a secretive process called the “shadow brief.” This process is exactly what it sounds like – decisions made in the dark without extensive briefings or hearings as most consecutive court decisions require.
While consequential decisions are made in the shadows, here’s what our Conservative judges are doing in the open: make public appearances at partisan political events and make speeches at rallies organized by wealthy special interest groups that backed their judicial nominations in the first place. More recently, we woke up to news that the Supreme Court struck down federal protections for abortion — a constitutional right relied on by three generations of Americans — give the signal that other decisions deemed to be authoritative will be reviewed and may also be threatened with reversal.
It should come as no surprise that public approval for the Court has plummeted. But one recent poll of black voters paints an even bleaker picture of trust in our nation’s highest court. The poll, conducted by HIT Strategies BlackTrack, found Cout’s approval dipped to 42%, a record high for the company’s poll. This was a huge shift, given that a poll a few months prior had found support among black voters to be at an all-time high of 63%, following the nomination and confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first black woman to sit on the Court.
In other words, the huge strides made by confirming Jackson with black voters were wiped out almost overnight. In two polls, we can see a warning for the courts of Tennessee, as well as a lesson in how we can ensure our state court system does not go the way of the Supreme Court.
There’s a reason we black voters were heartened by Justice Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court. It is because we felt that our views and lived experiences were about to be taken into account. After all, people are more likely to trust courts they feel connected to, and ultimately trust is the foundation of our justice system.
As a Shelby County resident, black woman, and activist fighting for fair courts and the right to vote, I can’t tell you how important it is to have highly trained representatives and judges to ensure that trust. . Unfortunately, the promise of a fully representative judiciary has never been fulfilled here in Tennessee. In the more than 226 years of our state’s history, only two black justices have served on our state’s Supreme Court, neither of whom has been a woman. It’s not just a problem in Tennessee. A 2021 analysis found that there were all-white state supreme courts in 22 states – half of which were states where people of color made up about a quarter or more of the population.
In total, people of color make up about 40% of the national population, but justices of color make up less than 17% of seats on the state Supreme Court.
The result of this disproportionate and systematic lack of lawyers of color is that millions of Americans, including Tennesseans, do not see themselves and their communities represented when looking at their state courts. Not only does this weaken public confidence in our courts, but it can also make it all the more difficult to accept controversial or contentious decisions. Without knowing that my perspective is being adequately represented in court, how can I fully trust decisions made that impact me and my community?
The lesson is clear for Tennessee: We need more representative, highly trained judges in Tennessee who reject partisan politics and focus solely on delivering fair decisions. We must ensure that every person in our state has confidence in the fairness of our courts. That’s what the framers of our state constitution envisioned, and for good reason. Equal and fair justice can only be achieved through fair courts and we are moving further and further away from this reality.
Ultimately, our goal should be to ensure a fair day in court for every Tennessean, no matter what corner of the state they’re from, what they look like, how much money they make, or what relationships they have. has. It is important that we fight for this because it is necessary to build a better and brighter future here in Tennessee.