In Love with Justice

Aurora Martin

This week, I declare I am in love with justice – even with all its imperfections and the often confining means of law and policy through which it works, and the painful trail of struggles of our splintered but shared history, justice continues to promise hope, protection, and dignity.

Justice this week, manifest in the long awaited decisions the U.S. Supreme Court issued in upholding the Affordable Care Act, key elements of the Fair Housing Act, and declaring marriage equality for all; altogether amounting to a sweeping declaration that in America, health, housing, and love are not privileges for some, but basic rights for all.  Notwithstanding the work which remains on behalf of undocumented immigrants and people confined to institutions, by the act of nine justices, we have moved closer towards a more inclusive and equitable society.

At the same time, in the midst of the Supreme Court’s issuance of landmark decisions, the week ends with a bitter sweet reality of the serious work for justice that remains as President Obama delivered a powerful eulogy that not only honors the lives of the men and women murdered in Charleston, South Carolina but also speaks the uncomfortable truth of how far we have yet to go in reckoning with our legacy of racism.  We remember and pay homage to the lives of State Senator and Rev. Clementa Pinkney, Myra Thompson, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, and the Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons Sr.  

In the depth of the nation’s sorrow, the President preached in the historic civil rights sanctuary of Mother Emanuel Church, speaking of a divine grace that somehow transcends the terror that was visited upon the martyred men and women of that sacred place.  It was grace that shone through the light of love, and lifted the families and a community even “in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness.”

The raw contrast between the kind of justice delivered by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the legacy of racial injustice that has left nine people dead in a place of worship and a historical place of refuge, is just too much.

The rule of law somehow answers to the moral and cultural imperatives of our time, and has intervened in this country’s historical, violent struggle to make room at the table of justice.  The problem is cultural shifts challenge deep-seated values which are passed on through generations and engrained in institutions so that change can be hard.

On the institution of marriage, Justice Kennedy reveals the humanity upon which the law rests when he writes of this dynamic: “Recognizing that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within the fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged, this Court has invoked equal protection principles…and confirmed the relation between liberty and equality.”

But even knowing the uncertain timeline of when justice will arrive, we still engage in advocacy because the promise of justice is worth it.

This week, the promise of justice was the assurance of healthcare, that federal subsidies for millions of Americans remain valid so that they can afford to purchase health insurance.  The promise of justice recognized that the work of the Fair Housing Act is far from over, and that though legally sanctioned racial segregation may no longer be, “the vestiges remain today, intertwined with the country’s economic and social life.”  In order to achieve integration it remains imperative to preserve that the Act serve as a tool of justice, to show when discriminatory housing patterns and practices exist, regardless of intention.  Finally, the promise of justice was delivered in the Court’s decision to strike the ban on same-sex marriage which a number of states continued to have in effect, thereby rooting the right to marry as a fundamental Constitutional right.

Many tears were shed this week.  Whether for joy or sorrow, I know for me it has been for both but above all, for the love of justice.