Let’s get Cornyn’s error right
This weekend, Senator John Cornyn posted a tweet that blew up in his face.
In response to a Tweet criticizing the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v Wade posted by President Barrack Obama — our nation’s first Black president — Cornyn retorted “Now do Plessy vs Ferguson/Brown vs Board of Education.”
Let’s be clear here: most critics of the Tweet are criticizing the wrong thing.
Cornyn is not arguing to reinstate segregation. He is not criticizing the Court’s landmark decision that ended the “separate but equal” doctrine. He is not advocating for a return to an education system that places Black, Hispanic, and white students in different buildings.
The former Texas Attorney General and Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court did, however, completely miss the most basic premise of both cases.
In the summer of 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7–1 decision that individual states had the right to segregate (or not segregate) under the flawed rationale that as long as services were “equal,” they could remain “separate.” The Plessy decision is considered one of the lowest moments in the history of the highest court in the land.
There was but one Justice who dissented. Justice John Marshall Harlan, adequately named The Great Dissenter, pointed out the absurdity of the decision by showing that the Louisiana law which segregated coach carts on a train by race allowed Black women on white cars if they were “nurses” or “nannies” to white children. The purpose of the law — and its obvious effect — was to limit the rights of some in some states: to create second-class citizens.
The Great Dissenter essentially argued that the U.S. Constitution should be “color-blind” in matters of law and civil rights and that individual states should not have the power to impede on those rights.
One of my favorite American heroes is Thurgood Marshall. In 1954, Marshall revealed that the evil of the Plessy doctrine was in the separateness it created, not just the obvious inequalities.
Through the baby doll experiment designed by married couple and psychologists, Mamie and Kenneth Clark, Marshall was able to prove that Black students in segregated schools (like in Washing D.C.) had an inherently different and negative outlook of their own race and self-worth in comparison to Black students in non-segregated schools (like in New York ). The study was called the “Emotional Factors in Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children,” and it revealed that, when given a choice between playing with a white or Black baby doll, young Black kids preferred to play with the white doll. Furthermore, when asked to identify labels for those dolls (which one is the “nice” doll? which one looks “bad?”), Black children applied negative connotations to dolls that look just like them.
“A child accepts as early as six, seven or eight the negative stereotypes about his own group,” the Clarks concluded.
And it was through this powerful study that lawyer and first Black Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, was able to convince all 9 justices in the summer of 1954 that allowing different states to create different laws for American children created radically unequal and divergent realities and rights.
See, allowing individual states to manipulate our most basic freedoms and opportunities never works out great for some of us, right? And that’s why Brown v. Board of Education changed America forever — from classrooms to courtrooms to cinemas — because it provided a federal protection of equality. It created a federal standard for access to services. It guaranteed federal freedoms so that your zip code didn’t determine your liberties.
So it is laughable for Senator Cornyn to try to draw some parallel between this Friday’s Dobbs case — which establishes two Americas where people are more free in some zip codes and less free in others — to Brown, which destroyed a state’s right to oppress certain citizens.
It is laughable for the Texas senator to ignore that Plessy took away rights while Roe v Wade protected and expanded them.
It is embarrassing that a former lawyer would make such an egregious analogy in hopes of making the point that some judicial precedents should be overturned.
When all 9 Justices rightfully struck down the law that allowed racist states to demean Black Americans, they understood that basic human rights cannot be left up to the radical whims of state legislatures. Six Justices today ignored that precedent and, instead, allowed gerrymandered and extremist state legislatures to create second class citizens. They’ve allowed our zip codes to determine our freedom and right to privacy.
And they did so after lying under oath in front of the United States Senate when they promised they understood that precedent. When they affirmed that Roe was established law, they lied to our senators in order to gain a seat on the bench of highest court, and they lied to the American people.
Shame on Senator Cornyn for misrepresenting the basic premise of one of America’s most shining moments of justice in Brown v. Board of Education. Shame on his support of school vouchers which would steal from our public schools — funded by and overseen by the public — to give to separate private institutions who are not accountable to public tax payers at all. Shame on his support of Justices who lied and ignored stare decisis and judicial precedent. Shame on his attacks of people’s right to privacy in the most dear and dangerous medical decisions we can make in our lifetimes.
But Senator Cornyn isn’t a segregationist.
He’s just stupid.