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John Thompson, retire teacher and historian in Oklahoma, cites the testimony of his fellow Oklahoman before the Senate Judiciary Committee:
To grasp the threat that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh represents to our constitutional democracy, read Emily Bazelon’s “Red Dawn” in the New York Times Magazine. To understand Kavanaugh’s threat to public education and our kids, check out the testimony of Oklahoma City’s high school teacher Melissa Smith to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Bazelon explains how Kavanaugh was “preapproved by the Federalist Society,” and “groomed” as an advocate for the rightwing’s social and economic policies. She explains how Federalist ideologues, who were dismayed that Chief Justice John Roberts hasn’t been conservative enough, have pushed for jurists like Kavanaugh, who could make it “increasingly difficult to believe the court is doing law, not politics.” The possible result is a court that is out of step with the public to the point where it could “strain the constitutional order – and the country – to the breaking point.”
In short, the Federalist Society would like to do to the United States of America what they and their allies, the Koch brothers, ALEC, and other corporate funders, have done to Oklahoma. That makes the testimony of Ms. Smith even more pertinent.
Smith teaches at Grant High School, where “almost 90 percent of our families are considered to be economically disadvantaged, 35 percent are English language learners, and 15 percent are disabled or have special needs.” Since senators can’t be in our schools every day, she shared some of our students’ experiences which they should consider before confirming a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Due to corporate-funded lobbying (further weaponized by Citizens United) and extreme political gerrymandering (defended by the Federalists), budget cuts have resulted in cuts of 50 percent in Grant’s fine arts program and the elimination of the library media budget. Grant serves 2/3rds more students than what it was designed for, and it has classes of 40 students or more; last week, students were still sweltering in 90 degree heat in Ms. Smith’s room.
Kavanaugh’s support for private school voucher programs, with little oversight and accountability, would siphon even more funding away from public education. Moreover, his support for anti-union rulings like Janus v. AFSCME could do to the rest of the nation what Right to Work has done to Oklahoma in the last 20 years.
Ms. Smith explained:
Judge Kavanaugh has a strong history of siding with big business over the needs, rights and safety of individual employees. His record shows that he sides with employers who do not adhere to their collective bargaining agreement, does not believe in union representation in employee meetings, and in one decision, would allow the employer to “abolish collective bargaining all together.”
Kavanaugh’s sponsors presented him as a caring father and coach, but what experience does he have caring for poor students? The suffering of Grant kids is ameliorated somewhat by dental vans in the school’s parking lot offering free services. But does he understand the reasons why Ms. Smith paid the senior dues of a student so that the kid’s family could pay their rent?
Ms. Smith has personally experienced some of the ways that Kavanaugh’s agenda has damaged children. She has had to respond to a Saturday night call to intervene with a suicidal student, and also carry another sobbing, suicidal student in the hallway to a counselor who, fortunately, was in the building that day, not traveling to other overextended schools.
Similarly, Kavanaugh might be more open to considering the welfare of kids beyond his experience if he understood what it was like for Ms. Smith to comfort a transgender student. The nominee might question the National Rifle Association’s agenda had he sat in her classroom on lockdown after a student brought a loaded .380 gun to school. Above all, Kavanaugh might reach different legal judgments if he could empathize with Grant’s Hispanic majority, including undocumented kids who must worry about ICE agents empowered by Trumpism.
Ms. Smith explained:
Just last week, the teacher in the classroom next to mine wrote a reference letter for a student and his family to take with them to their hearing to determine whether they could remain in this country. She stressed about it for days because she needed it to be perfect. Her student has never known anything but his life in Oklahoma, and he is terrified of being sent to a place that is not home, regardless of what anyone tells him.
Of course, the Federalist Society and corporate interests have had the right over the last few decades to secretly plan and implement their collective plan. But who would have believed they would have become so successful in undermining collective action by the rest of us?
And that is why we face the prospect of a Justice Kavanaugh, who “has sided with the powerful and their institutions, rather than with the voiceless and the vulnerable—be they immigrants, individuals with disabilities, or workers—who need protections from the courts.”
Kavanaugh has the right to remain oblivious to the realities that teachers and students face. But maybe at least two Republican senators will listen to Ms. Smith. As she says, “I teach my students about justice and equality, but I worry that we live in a country where these rules no longer apply.” Maybe they will listen to a teacher who concluded her testimony the same way she ends every Friday at school with her students: “Be the example, have a good weekend and make good choices.”