The Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York and the New York Law Journal partnered with the New York City Department of Education to sponsor the 12th annual essay contest for 10th, 11th and 12th grade students. Ten students won the opportunity to intern for a week with a Supreme Court justice and earned a $100 American Express gift card. The theme of this year’s contest was "Realizing the Dream: Equality for All" to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The winners were feted at the New York City Bar on Feb. 4. On hand for the event, from left, are Justice Robert Miller, Appellate Division, Second Department; Justice Barry Kamins, Brooklyn administrative judge for criminal matters; Justice Fern Fisher, deputy chief administrative judge for New York City courts; Shean Hinds, the grand prize winner from Harry S. Truman High School in the Bronx; and Justice Lawrence Knipel, Brooklyn administrative judge for civil matters.
Equality: the state or quality of being equal, a term often used but rarely fulfilled. Around the world and through the centuries, many have fought and died in the continuous struggle for their rights as human beings. America, "the land of opportunity," has been no exception to the countless countries in which citizens had to fight for their dream of equality. Throughout the trials and tribulations on America’s path to equality, the U.S. Supreme Court has both helped and hindered many people, but perhaps African Americans have been one group most strongly affected by the judicial branch.
The U.S. Supreme Court, like the "living Constitution" has changed with the times. Both reflect the majority opinions in the country. Each new panel of Supreme Court justices has proven how the court can either support the movement towards equality or end any hopes. Exemplified in the following landmark cases: Dred Scott v. Stanford (1857), considered the worst decision in Supreme Court history, which ruled "free blacks…could never be considered citizens of the United States or be protected by the United States Constitution"; followed by another terrible blow for equality—Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), protecting the "separate but equal" doctrine, after African-Americans were finally considered citizens.
Changing the tide with a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) the Supreme Court began moving towards equality by declaring the racial segregation of students in public schools unconstitutional.
"They were enslaved by law, emancipated by law, disenfranchised and segregated by law; and, finally, they have begun to win equality by law."—Justice Thurgood Marshall.
This simple yet powerful statement provides a profound insight into how law dictates human rights. After being classified as "…beings of an inferior order…that had no rights…" by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (Dred Scott) later rectified by Chief Justice Earl Warren, who stated "no state shall make or enforce any law which shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws" (Brown).
By having the final decision on what is constitutional and unconstitutional, in the eyes of many the judicial branch has the most power out of the three branches of government. With the extraordinary power given to it, the Supreme Court has proven that when given time it will correct past mistakes.
All of the credit cannot be given just to the judicial branch; one must remember that in order for the court to have progressed, many had to fight for the dream of equality.
Even in 2012, after all that has been achieved, the lingering thought remains, have we as Americans truly achieved equality? Yes America has its first black president, a black attorney general, and African Americans make up 18 percent of the U.S. federal workforce while they are only 12 percent of the total population.
But when we look at our neighborhoods and schools such as Harry S. Truman High School, where the overwhelming majority of the population is one ethnicity, doesn’t it raise the question of whether or not segregation has ended?
Shean Hinds is a senior at Harry S. Truman High School in the Bronx.