The Color of Justice

By Evans C. Anyanwu

If abolitionist Frederick Douglas appeared today in New Jersey and asked for political support from the African American community, he might be surprised at the fact that his political affiliation would far eclipse his accomplishments. Douglas was a Republican.

In April of 1865, shortly after the Civil War ended, and President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Douglas gave a speech at the Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Boston. At issue was the voting rights of Black men and to this subject Douglas remarked:

“I have had but one idea for the last three years to present to the American people, and the phraseology in which I clothe it is the old abolition phraseology. I am for the immediate, unconditional, and universal enfranchisement of the black man, in every State in the Union. Without this, his liberty is a mockery; without this, you might as well almost retain the old name of slavery for his condition; for in fact, if he is not the slave of the individual master, he is the slave of society, and holds his liberty as a privilege, not as a right. He is at the mercy of the mob, and has no means of protecting himself.”

Drawing loud applauses from the previous line, Douglas went right into the heart of his speech. He deviated from the conventional thought of most abolitionists, which at the time was that the right to vote should come last. The immediate need for African Americans, most thought, was to end slavery, organize and let voting naturally come at the end of the abolitionist movement. Douglas remarked: “It may be objected, however, that this pressing of the Negro’s right to suffrage is premature. Let us have slavery abolished, it may be said, let us have labor organized, and then, in the natural course of events, the right of suffrage will be extended to the Negro. I do not agree with this.”

Five years after his speech, the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibited the States and Federal government from denying African Americans the right to vote. Thereafter, Thomas Mundy Peterson, a Republican, on March 31, 1870 cast the first vote ever by a Black man, under the just-enacted Amendment, during the Perth Amboy, New Jersey, School Board Elections.

The right to vote, not only for African Americans, but for women, was very important to Douglas. So it is with this background that I write about a very important vote to ensue. There is likely to be a committee vote this month to advance the nomination of Bruce A. Harris, Esq. to the Supreme Court of the same State where Thomas Mundy Peterson cast his historic vote.

Harris, to the best of my knowledge, is not endorsed by any African American organizations, including those that I am a member of; and I have made fruitless inquiries as to the dearth of support.

The deafening silence by African American organizations as to the nomination of Harris underscores a serious problem in my community. For too many African Americans, Black equals Democrat and liberal. Accordingly, if one is Republican and Black, he or she is not “our kind of Black.” This monolithic approach to politics robs, and continues to deprive, African Americans of greater political clout. If the community desires the advancement of African Americans, need it be only for the advancement of African American Democrats? Working only one side of the aisle results in the absence of African American interests at the table where decisions are made that affect African American interests.

Of course, Harris is a Black, Republican Yale Law School graduate. The last time a Black Republican Yale Law School graduate was scheduled to appear before a legislative body for approval to advance to the position of Supreme Court Justice, it was Clarence Thomas; and the backlash from that moment in time—for African Americans— fails to fade from memory.

For better or for worse, Harris is not Clarence Thomas. He is an attorney, and for eight years served on the council of the borough of Chatham. Last fall he was elected as the borough’s Mayor. As any councilman or mayor will attest to, their job entails real world problem solving. He thus has the background, that of an elected official, that many credit for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s ability to apply the letter of the law in a pragmatic fashion.

Harris has no record of involvement in matters likely to be detrimental to Blacks, Whites Republicans or Democrats. All Harris has that appears to make African Americans uneasy, is the scarlet letter “R”, Republican.

I am in no way saying that Harris is akin to Frederick Douglas; or even Clarence Thomas. I just ask that my community remember to judge one by the contents of his character and not by the contents of his voter registration form. Only when we do this do we honor Douglas, Peterson and the power of the vote.

The author is an attorney with Anyanwu Associates, LLC

Posted: May 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: NJ Courts, NJ Judiciary, NJ Supreme Court | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

9 Comments on “The Color of Justice”

  1. Bob English said at 8:15 pm on May 10th, 2012:

    Would that be the Clarence Thomas that has not asked one question during oral arguments for over 6 years??

  2. Lois said at 9:44 am on May 11th, 2012:

    Good grief, Bob English—you sure swerved off-topic – and then drove straight off a cliff.

    What a snide remark about Clarence Thomas…

    Mr. Anyanwu is identifying an on-going, serious matter—that qualified Black candidates cannot get serious consideration from their Black brothers so long as there is an “R” after their name.

    This should not be. He is trying in his own way to get it changed. In a most reasonable, respectful, cogent and informative fashion, i might add.

    WHAT does your comment have to do with anything under consideration?? A shame, that the first comment posted in response has such an obviously negative bias–and does nothing to move the ball forward, in a positive fashion.

    We can do better than that in dealing with these complicated (sad) but certainly reversible parts of the electoral process. You’ve helped in the past to do exactly that—hope you will again, too.

  3. Justified Right said at 11:14 am on May 11th, 2012:

    Wow what a terrific piece!

  4. Sancho Panza said at 11:53 am on May 11th, 2012:

    @”A shame, that the first comment posted in response has such an obviously negative bias–and does nothing to move the ball forward, in a positive fashion.”
    That is not their objective — hasn’t been for a long time — and it’s doubtful that it will reappear any time soon.

  5. Bob English said at 12:40 pm on May 11th, 2012:

    Two points: 1) Mr. Harris’s nomination deserves fair and serious consideration 2) Since Justice Thomas was referred to twice in the article. there is nothing wrong with a comment about him that is 100% factually correct

  6. Lois said at 1:59 pm on May 11th, 2012:

    Sorry—i stand by my opinion your remark was derogatory…full of innuendo…..designed to evoke a negative perception of Justice Thomas, just because he prefers to listen more than speak.

    A cheap shot.

  7. BobEnglish said at 7:53 pm on May 11th, 2012:

    Derogatory?? Innuendo??? How about what I wrote is 100% true.

    I just happen to think that Clarence Thomas is not a particuarly good Supreme Court Justice.

    With that said, as I stated above, Mr. Harris nomination should be treated fairly and given serious consideration.

  8. Name (required) said at 4:03 pm on May 12th, 2012:

    Seems odd that there was no mention of a black associate NJ Justice who went to that “other New England law school” that the governor summarily threw under the bus last year. Especially, when discussing qualified black lawyers seeking a seat on the Supreme Court.
    In short, it cannot be disputed that Justice Wallace was eminently more qualified than Harris is, political affiliation notwithstanding.
    Shouldn’t the barometer be qualified applicants, rather than the party affiliation? After all, that was the excuse the governor used to dismiss Wallace.

    Wallace had experience on the bench prior to his appointment to the SC. In contrast, Harris was a councilman for a few years in Chatham- a wealthy town without many governance challenges (it’s not like its Paterson, Camden or Asbury Park).

    The reason for the difficulty in finding qualified Republican black applicants is simple- there are not that many of them and until the GOP gets its social priorities in order that trend will continue.

    It is a shame that Harris need be considered at all, regardless of how he is treated. There should be no reason for his nomination in the first place regardless of his party.

  9. ArtGallagher said at 5:53 pm on May 12th, 2012:


    It is not odd at all that Mr. Anyanwu did not mention Wallace. The entire premise of your comment is inaccurate. Wallace reached the mandatory retirement age in March. Harris is nominated to replace him.

    Governor Christie was exercising his constitutional authority not to reappoint Wallace in 2010. He was making good on his promise to reshape the Court.

    The reason for the difficulty in finding qualified Republican black applicants is simple- there are not that many of them and until the GOP gets its social priorities in order that trend will continue.

    You mean the social priorties that have resulted in the current plight that the African American community finds itself in?

    Incredibly high unemployment? A majority of households headed by single mothers? More abortions than births? An education system and local governments that exploits poor Blacks for the benefit on middle class Blacks?

    Are those the social priorities you would have the GOP adopt?

    We need modern day Douglases to lead Blacks off the Democratic plantation. Maybe Mr. Anyanwu is such a leader.

    The GOP needs to start reaching out to the Black community. To find and nourish those Douglases. The GOP adopting the Democratic planation model is the last thing the African American community needs.