By Christopher MacNeil
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1857 handed down what nearly 160 years later is regarded by constitutional and legal scholars to be the single most unjust and notorious decision in the court’s entire history.
Dred Scott v. Sandford involved a black slave, Dred Scott, who was taken by his owner from a slate state to Illinois, a state that did not sanction slavery. Scott tried to gain his freedom by suing his owner in federal court. In the decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the high court ruled 7-2 that African- Americans were not citizens of the United States and thus had no legal standing to sue. Although never overturned, the Scott ruling instead was invalidated in 1868 with the ratification of the 14th Amendment, Section 1 of which bestows U.S. citizenship and “equal protection” of the law to all persons born or naturalized in the United States.
Clearly, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor unofficial darling of the pro-Kim Davis “I’m not allowing gay guys and chicks to marry” bandwagon, needs to be educated. In a radio interview Sept. 9 with conservative host Michael Medved, Huckabee not only rewrote history – and badly – he somehow invoked the Dred Scott case to argue against same-sex marriage. According to Huckabee, Scott is the “law of the land” although no one adheres to it.
Apparently in Huckabee’s logic, the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that made same-sex marriage a legal federal right can be ignored because the “law” in the Scott case is similarly ignored. That logic, twisted as it is, apparently is Huckabee’s basis of support for Davis, the Kentucky clerk who spent five days in jail for contempt after refusing to comply with a federal court order to stop denying same-sex couples a marriage license.
Huckabee’s interviewer, Medved, did not point out to his subject that the Scott decision was rendered moot by the 14th Amendment. Instead Medved cited the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery in 1865 and asked Huckabee if a constitutional amendment is needed to undo the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision. Huckabee said he didn’t think so because the ruling “goes back to what [Thomas] Jefferson said that if a decision is rendered that is not borne out by the will of the people either through their elected people and gone through the process, if you just say it’s the law of the land because the court decided, then. Jefferson said, ‘You now have surrendered to judicial tyranny.’”
If Huckabee’s response failed to answer the question, another of his comments in an unrelated interview might offer what he might have meant. In his home state of Arkansas, Huckabee said there is “nothing wrong” with clerks refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, that is, just ignore the law.
Huckabee’s rigid opposition to gay rights and equality as governor and now as White House hopeful is etched in the public record and clearly borders on the homophobic. But his declaration that the Scott decision remains the “law of the land” is not only factually and legally wrong, it exposes extreme conservatism at its most dangerous and is an offensive and racist slur against all African-Americans and civil libertarians.
It might be easy to dismiss Huckabee as a far right-winger concocting a desperate but demented logic to defend his political and social views in the same way some have already turned from Davis’ case to focus efforts on other unresolved issues of equality. But writing off Huckabee and others who agree with him without demanding accountability and an apology risks an open injury and insult to all people who reject their views as racist and homophobic.
To that end, Huckabee should be held up as a racist and homophobe who, at the very least, owes an apology to every African-American citizen of the United States and to LGBT people and supporters of equal protection by the law of all citizens. An apology from Huckabee is as unlikely as Kim Davis obeying the law and licensing gay couples wanting to marry. But accountability and an apology might finally force Huckabee to understand that a sizeable portion of the electorate he wants to put him in the White House rejects his vision of a divided and unequal country in which African-Americans and LGBT people are not entitled to the rights and legal protection already guaranteed by the constitution and law.
It might be time to start a #HoldHuckAccountable campaign.