Morning Ethics Heat-Up, 5/18/2022: More Judicial Review And Lies

Because I was otherwise obsessed, I missed noting yesterday a true landmark in law and ethics. It was that date in 1954 when a unanimous the  Supreme Court handed down the unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Linda Brown, a young African American girl had been denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, because of the color of her skin.

Written in 1896 as the KKK roamed the South, the SCOTUS ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson held that “separate but equal” accommodations in railroad cars conformed to the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. Plessy was interpreted as justifying segregation in everything from buses to water fountains to elementary schools. The white school Brown attempted to attend was far superior to her the segregation-mandated alternative and miles closer to her home, so The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People  took up Linda’s cause. Thurgood Marshall led Brown’s legal team, and on May 17, 1954, Plessy was overturned after 58 years as “the law of the land” despite the siren call of stare decisus. The opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren declared that “separate but equal” was an unconstitutional doctrine in ringing terms: “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”  A year later, the Supreme Court published guidelines requiring public school systems to integrate “with all deliberate speed.”

1. Prudent and responsible, if not courageous. Speaking of SCOTUS, newly confirmed Justice-in-Waiting Ketanji Brown Jackson sat for an interview by the Washington Post and was asked about the leak of Justice Alito’s draft opinion in the Dobbs abortion case. Conservative media was triggered by this section:

Q: What was your response when you when you saw the draft leak [of a Supreme Court opinion that would strike down Roe v. Wade]?

A: Everybody who is familiar with the court and the way in which it works was shocked by that. Such a departure from normal order.

Q: Do you think it was a good thing or a bad thing?

A: I can’t answer that.

Q: What do you think about peaceful protests outside of Supreme Court justices’ homes?

A: I don’t have any comment.

Charles Cooke at the National Review writes, “This ranges from somewhere between cowardly and sinister, much like the failure of the justices to issue a joint statement that echoes the chief justice’s condemnation of the leak and statement of determination to identify the leaker, and that condemns the protests, which violate federal law.”

Wrong. SCOTUS justices should not issue opinions on such matters. Her statement that the leak was a breach of the normal order was factual, and breaches of normal order in any institution are unethical. She was right to go no further. As for the demonstrators, some of them may be arrested at some point, and a statement by a Supreme Court Justice regarding their conduct could interfere with a fair trial.

Her responses give me more reason to trust Jackson’s judgment, not less.

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Two Critical Integrity Questions For African-Americans, University Administrators, Democrats, Civil Rights Advocates, Progressives And Social Justice Warriors

Seperate-but-Equal

First question: 

Are you prepared to rationalize this?

From the Wisconsin State Journal:

UW-Madison’s Multicultural Student Center separated attendees by race to discuss a violent week of news that stirred debates about racism and law enforcement, prompting criticism from conservative news outlets that the arrangement amounted to segregation.

Campus officials said the decision to hold separate meetings Monday for white and minority students, faculty and staff was made to ensure people of color had a place to discuss their concerns, and said the rules were not meant to exclude participants.

“No one was turned away from any session,” UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said in a statement.

A post that has since been deleted from the Multicultural Student Center’s Facebook page described the meetings as a place where students and UW employees could emotionally process the prior week, which included fatal police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana, followed by the targeted killing of five police officers in Dallas.

Two of the meetings were for white students and UW employees, according to the post, while two meetings were for people of color.

The Daily Caller, a national conservative news site, wrote about the meetings Monday night, posting a story that included a historic photo of a segregated waiting room sign. The site Right Wisconsin also wrote about the meetings.

McGlone said participants wanted “a space to express feelings without the fear of being judged.”

“Our students of color often find such spaces hard to come by,” McGlone said. “It is a best practice in student affairs to allow quiet and reflective space for those who request it.”

Still, McGlone said, the intent behind the different meetings “could have been communicated more clearly to avoid any impression of exclusion.”

McGlone did not respond to a followup question asking whether the Multicultural Student Center would use a similar structure for meetings in the future…

Here is a handy link to the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List, so those of you choosing to try to justify this have all the necessary arguments in one convenient place..

The second question:

If you are not prepared to rationalize it, do you have the courage and integrity to condemn it?

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T-shirt Ethics and Bigotry In Lexington, Kentucky

The offensive T-shirt design. Honest.

Hands On Originals is a T-shirt company in Lexington, Kentucky that is now under fire for refusing the business of the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, which organizes Lexington’s annual gay pride festival every June. The organization wanted to print up some T-shirts, and the company told them to take their business somewhere else. The reason: the T-shirt company is a “Christian organization”, and the owners don’t want to assist in promoting a message that goes against their religious beliefs.

The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization filed a complaint, and now there will be an investigation to decide whether this violates Lexington’s Fairness Act, which protects people and organizations from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Lexington’s mayor has weighed in against Hands On, and boycotts against the company and the closely related company Wildcat Wearhouse have been threatened. Meanwhile the attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing the T-shirt company, argues that “No business owner should be forced to violate his conscience simply because someone demands it. The Constitution absolutely supports the rights of business owners to decline a request to support a message that conflicts with their deeply held convictions.”

I am not going to comment on the legal and constitutional issues, but the ethical issue is clear. Should society respect the choice of a business to refuse to provide products or services to groups, individuals or causes it opposes or objects to on moral or religious grounds? Continue reading

The Citizens United Opinion and the Post’s Unethical Poll

Is the Washington Post story on  the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court opinion and the public’s reaction to it  dishonest, sinister, or just incompetent? I’m not sure, but I am sure of this: it is a classic example of why polls are a terrible way to guide national policy and lawmaking. The Post article begins…

“Americans of both parties overwhelmingly oppose a Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on political campaigns, and most favor new limits on such spending, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.”

The statement is false and misleading. Whatever the merits or deficiencies of the Citizens decision may be, the vast majority of the American public has no idea what the Supreme Court ruling was, or why it was made. Continue reading