BY: Jonathan Wheeler
Today’s Supreme Court is very diverse. Sexually, there are three women and six men, the first time thirty-three percent of the court has been female. Racially, there is a Black American man and a Latina American woman, the first time a non-Black American racial minority has ever served on the Supreme Court. Religiously, there are three Jews and six Catholics, the first time there has been no Protestant Supreme Court justice.
In retrospect, the newfound diversity on the Supreme Court can be traced back to President Johnson, when he first appointed Justice Thurgood Marshall. Justice Marshall was the first Black American the country would see serve on the Supreme Court, something of which—prior to President Johnson’s decision—was unheard. At the time of Marshall’s appointment, America was struggling to discover its identity. The incontrovertible reality was, and continues to be, that Americans come in different colors, sizes, shapes, religions and political affiliations. America’s identity was unique because it was one of the only countries whose nationals did not share common last names and similar physical features.
President Johnson took a very bold step in appointing an African American to the Supreme Court. When Thurgood Marshall retired in 1991, President Bush had to make a decision; the decision that he made was not bold. President Bush would be appointing one of two people: a Black American or a non-Black American. If he appointed a Black America, he would be continuing the legacy of Justice Marshall, a Black American Supreme Court justice. Many Americans had begun to appreciate an integrated Supreme Court.President Bush made the decision to appoint another Black American. Whether he did this for the sake of diversity, legacy or a hopeful attempt at scraping up part of the Black voter demographic, only he will know. President Bush appointed Clarence Thomas, the second Black man to wear the robe of a Supreme Court Justice.
For women to serve on the Nation’s highest court, it took until 1981 and President Reagan’s somewhat out of character, Left Wing decision to appoint Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. When President Bill Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993 to the court, this was the first time the Supreme Court saw two women, one of which was Jewish. Fast-forwarding to after Clinton appointed another Jew, Stephen Breyer we saw President Obama taking every opportunity to support the American judicial system with extremely educated, well qualified individuals. However, what I have begun to notice is that the American public seems to believe that being well qualified and coming from a diverse background are mutually exclusive roles. What is bemusing to me is that this country is at a point where we finally have people from different backgrounds succeeding in every field from medicine to literature, yet we are still uncomfortable attributing the success of these individuals to their personal abilities.
Our society has become a society that looks at individuals occupying roles of elitism and thinks that if they are anything but the typical White, Christian male, they are in that role simply because of whatever form of diversity they introduce. On Miami’s campus many Black American students struggle with their Black American identity. We know that we are smart, and many of us know that our Black American friends from back home are smart. We all come from different backgrounds, yet many Miami students quickly amalgamate us. Despite our community being so sure of its academic abilities, many of us walk around Miami’s campus feeling a need to prove ourselves to other students. We feel like every time someone looks at us, they think that we are a product of affirmative action. Maybe some of us are, but at the end of the day, all of us are not, any more than all White American Miami students are products of legacy nepotism. We are smart; we work hard. Americans need to understand that no institution, company or organization will risk the efficacy of the product they market for the sake of diversity—not even the Supreme Court.
Americans also need to understand the value of learning inside and outside of the classroom. Having a diverse student body allows students to learn things, they never thought they would learn—the opportunity for which they would not have had going to a non-diverse school.
Photo from The Huffington Post. “The Supreme Court, 2010.” 2010