Justice Black’s mark on Court may surprise many
Our junior U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions has risen to national prominence in this pivotal presidential year. His arch conservative senate voting record and impeccable pedigree as one of the most rock-solid Republicans in the U.S. Senate has made him a marquee persona among right-wing Fox News conservatives throughout the country.
During the GOP Primary debates earlier this year, the aspirants would refer to him and insinuate that Sessions was in their corner. However, the ultimate victor, Donald Trump, won the early support of Sessions primarily due to their common opinion on immigration.
It is no secret that Trump reveres and trusts Sessions. In fact, Sessions has evolved into Trump’s foremost confidant, both politically and philosophically. Without question, Sessions is closer to Trump than any member of the Senate. If Trump were to be elected, Trump could appoint Sessions to the Supreme Court.
Jeff Sessions would unquestionably become a social conservative stalwart on the court. If this were to occur, he would be only the second Alabamian in a century to be named to the nation’s high tribunal.
The last Alabamian named to the Supreme Court was Hugo Black. If Sessions is appointed to the Supreme Court, the contrast in the two legacies of Sessions and Black would be remarkable.
Probably the most enduring legacy a president will have is an appointment to the United States Supreme Court. This lifetime powerful appointment will be lasting. The nine Justices of the Supreme Court have omnipotent everlasting power over most major decisions affecting issues and public policy in our nation.
Our new president will not only fill the one seat vacant now due to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, but probably two more. These appointments may be their most lasting legacy.
It may come as a surprise to you since Alabama is currently considered one of the most conservative places in America, but Black was arguably one of the most liberal Supreme Court Justices in history. He was also one of the longest serving justices. Black was the fifth longest serving Supreme Court Justice. He sat on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1937-1971. Nearly 35 of his 85 years on earth were spent on the Supreme Court.
Black, like most folks and heroes of that era in Alabama history, was born on a farm. He was born in rural Clay County in 1886. He was the youngest child of a large family. He worked his way through the University of Alabama Law School under the tutelage of President George Denny. He shoveled coal to stoke the furnaces at the university. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
He began practicing law in Birmingham at 22 years old. He became a Jefferson County prosecutor and then World War I broke out. He served in the war and rose to the rank of captain. In 1926 at age 40, Black was elected to the United States Senate. He arrived in the Senate at the beginning of the Great Depression. During his entire tenure in the Senate, America was in the throes of the depression. Folks who endured this era were marked by it.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to the White House in 1932. His New Deal was the most legendary political accomplishment in American history. Black became one of FDR’s staunchest allies. He voted for 24 out of 24 of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.
Alabama benefited mightily from FDR’s New Deal, especially, rural Alabama and the Tennessee Valley. Roosevelt rewarded Alabama’s junior senator with a coveted seat on the Supreme Court. He was one of nine justices appointed by President Roosevelt during his 13-year reign as president.
Black was a liberal New Dealer in the Senate and liberals were pleased by the justice from Alabama’s tenure over the next 35 years. Liberals regard Black as one of the most influential Supreme Court Justices of the 20th Century. He literally hung his hat on the 14th Amendment. He was part of the court decision that declared school racial segregation illegal in the famous Brown v. Board of Education decision.
It is probably unbelievable to most Americans that Alabama’s only contribution to the Supreme Court is one of its most liberal justices in history.
Believe me, there would be quite a difference in philosophy between the ultra-liberal Black and the ultra-conservative Sessions, which illustrates the historical change in Alabama politics.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.