Let me start by telling you why I am writing this. As I sit here, the courts are the only branch of government standing up to the president. But, judges don’t like to get out in front of society. They remember what happened when they did, and it wasn’t good.
In 1954, the Supreme Court desegregated schools in the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Some schools simply refused to follow the court’s decision. The Supreme Court realized it didn’t have any way to actually carry out its decision. More importantly, it realized it had gotten out in front of where society was on the issue, and if people started ignoring its decisions, then it was in very big trouble. The Supreme Court won’t make that mistake again.
That brings us to 2017. Almost every day, there is a new assault on people’s rights by the current president and his administration. Thankfully, the courts, the Constitution, and the law are a check on the president. The federal court system is equal to the president. Its decisions are binding on the president, his administration and Congress.
To paraphrase John Adams, we are a nation of laws, not of men. Thankfully, the law is greater than any one man.
The law, including the court system, doesn’t operate in a void. Judges are a part of society. Judges learned in Brown v. Board of Education that what society thinks, matters. Also, we have a voice in who becomes a judge. In other words, we are not powerless. We are powerful. And what we can do is pretty easy.
Judges live in this world like we do. They read posts and news sites, and newspapers and magazines. They watch television and movies. They watch commercials and see advertisements. They talk to their friends. And they have friends and family who are LGBTQ. All this informs their thinking. While judges are supposed to be unbiased, their view of the world is still the filter they bring into the courtroom. They receive the messages in subtle, and not-so-subtle ways about what society thinks about people who are LGBTQ. We must continue to educate people, including judges, about who are as people who are LGBTQ. We do it by living our lives as openly as we are able, by supporting those who advance equality and, for those of us who can shout louder, by shouting louder.
It matters when we support businesses that have all-gender bathrooms. It matters when we support companies whose ads show two men or two women in the same way they show a different-sex couple. It matters when a TV show tells the story of a transgender kid in an unbiased manner. It matters when we introduce our sweetheart as our wife, husband or partner. It matters when our families, friends and co-workers know who we are. It matters when we make donations to organizations working for our rights. It matters when we join lawsuits asserting our rights.
There is also our vote. Our system has federal courts and state courts. Federal court judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. We vote for who is in the Senate and who is the president. In North Carolina state, judges are elected. We choose who is elected. We, us, you and me. Because only a small percentage of voters scroll down the ballot and vote on the judges, our votes are even more powerful.
The saying goes that none of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. Even in the current political climate, each of us has a voice. The courts, Constitution and law are standing their ground. We have to make sure that continues.
info: Connie J. Vetter is an attorney practicing in Charlotte, N.C. Learn more about her at cjvlaw.com.