Under the baobab: ‘Battle for the soul of America’ continues

Congratulations to Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, sworn in as the first African American woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Joining Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Amy Coney Barrett, she becomes the fourth woman to concurrently serve. She is the 116th Justice, the fifth woman, and third Black person to be appointed. Before Sandra Day O’Connor, appointed to the Court in 1981, and Thurgood Marshall appointed in 1967, justices of the Court had all been white men, mostly protestant Christians.

She is replacing the retiring justice Stephen Breyer, who was identified as part of the liberal wing of the Court. Her appointment will probably not affect the conservative direction toward which the Court has recently leaned. The reversal of Roe V. Wade (Dobbs), the overturn of New York’s open carry regulations, allowing a high school football coach to pray on the fifty-yard line, and other conservative decisions probably would not have been affected. With her appointment the Court is more reflective of the diverse demographics of the country. Perhaps a more representative court might improve the Court’s approval rating. In recent times the Court’s approval rating has been rather dismal. After the Dobbs decision the Court’s approval was at a record low 26%, according to a Gallup poll.

Also significant is the cumulative ages of the Justices. Justice Jackson will be one of four justices in their 50s, one of five under 65. Justice Thomas, the longest serving of the nine, is 74 years old, followed by Justice Alito at 72. The country will have to live with this Court’s decisions for the foreseeable future. Any possible progressive or liberal changes in the foundational laws of the country will come from the Congress, the state or local government, not the Court.

In Pennsylvania, if women are to maintain their health and reproductive rights the conservative legislature must be transformed. Locally Democrats have usually written off the state and local races as unwinnable. They no longer have that luxury. Obviously the governorship must remain in the hands of a pro-choice candidate. Right now the stalwart political defender of a woman’s right to choose is Governor Wolf. The PA Senate race is also crucial. If Democrats lose the Senate, the chance of a national anti-abortion program being successfully enacted increases exponentially.

In Centre County there have been significant changes in our political representation. Ferguson and Patton townships, along with State College Borough, all have African American and other people of color on their councils or boards. Ferguson’s governing body are all women. We’ve made good steps but the journey is not over.

John Lewis said, “we are in a battle for the soul of America.” He pleaded with us to get into “good trouble” by struggling for justice and freedom. John’s life was testament to the sacrifices which are required to bring about positive and lasting change. He was the last of the big six who spoke at the March on Washington. He had his skull fractured at the Edmund-Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965. He spent years in Congress fighting for the rights of all Americans. He even held a sit-in on the floor of Congress trying to pass gun control legislation. John died fighting to the end.

I am older than all the Supreme Court justices and most of government heads except President Biden and Speaker Pelosi. I probably will not see much change in personnel but to see changes in policy, we all must work. I can still contribute, knock on doors, make phone calls, take neighbors to the polls, engage each other in discussions. We all can.

Sisters and brothers, this time it’s serious. We are struggling for the future and the soul of America.

Charles Dumas is a lifetime political activist, a professor emeritus from Penn State, and was the Democratic Party’s nominee for U.S. Congress in 2012. He lives with his partner and wife of 50 years in State College.