It was 1957 ― the year I graduated from Fargo Shanley High School and turned my senior mantle over to my sister, Kate, who was a year behind me. Sister Jody was preparing for her wedding in the fall; brother Tim was in the Air Force and also preparing for his own fall wedding; and I had no idea where my little sister Jean was because I saw her so seldom. (She’s years and years behind me in age. I actually asked my folks at breakfast one day who the hell she was.)
It was also the year that Fargo suffered a terrible tornado that caused much death and destruction, including taking the the roof off the Shanley gym. But the most exciting event of all was yet to come.
My dad had just two years under his belt since his appointment to the bench by President Eisenhower when the presiding judge of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals asked him if he’d help clear a backlog of cases in Little Rock, Ark., elsewhere in the 8th Circuit.
Ronald N. Davies was never one to back down from a challenge. He readied his 5-foot-1-inch frame for what he thought would be a new but routine gig. I’ll only say this once: Dad’s height was obvious, but he cast a giant shadow. When he entered any room, be it courtroom or living room or his favorite haunts at the Fargo Elks Club and the Gardner Hotel cafeteria, he was always noticed.
Enough of the bragging about my father. Let me now brag about the judge ― Ronald Norwood Davies. As most know, he accepted the court’s assignment and went to Arkansas. In a total of just 33 days, he rendered an historical decision and attended his daughter Jody’s wedding. (He had to miss Tim’s wedding because of the case in Arkansas.)
While Dad didn’t talk about the case at home, it became very obvious it was serious … not only because of the news but because it had to have been something very, very significant to keep him away from my brother Tim’s wedding. I know it broke Dad’s heart to miss the occasion but also know that Tim completely understood the reasoning.
Dad was sent to Arkansas to interpret the meaning of one sentence ― “with all deliberate speed” ― and how to apply it. In Brown v. Board of Education, the state of Arkansas had been ordered to integrate (desegregate) Central High School in Little Rock. Many over the passing years have thought Judge Davies had been the actual originator of the order to integrate, but this wasn’t so.
I wish I’d asked my father whether having children the same age as the students whose fate he determined had an impact on his decision. With no proof, I will still always believe it did, just knowing his heart and character as I did.
His options were not limited. He could have delayed the implementation of the integration by years; he could have said within one year; he could have left some discretion to the school board. His decision was to integrate right now, without any further delay. I will believe to my grave that he saw his own children in that setting and thought, “There would be no delay, period.”
For his courage in “simply discharging his duties” as he put it, Dad received much praise from the legal community and some of the lay people. He also received bushels of hate mail. He ignored it … but that brings me to this year.
The year 2015 now ends with Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court making a racially charged argument in an affirmative action case, Fisher v. Texas.
“There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower track school where they do well.”
While Judge Scalia is considered an intelligent jurist and a nice man with a great sense of humor, he also holds the current record for controversial statements ― as opposed to the court’s greatest disappointment and only black member, Justice Clarence Thomas, who sits in court without saying a word. Turn the clock back, and today’s group would have listened to Anita Hill. …
The point to be made here is that there is no Code of Ethics or Judicial Conduct for U.S. Supreme Court justices. Every other federal and state court has one, as well as most local courts.
Off-the-cuff remarks like Justice Scalia’s would not be made if he were bound by the same rules as other federal courts. He has brought matters to such a state that Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., has been impelled to introduce The Supreme Court Ethics Act. Legal scholars have previously urged that the chief justice implement such a code ― but without success. To be sure, other justices have also brought the issue of conduct into question, but this one leads the pack.
My father viewed discrimination and segregation much differently than this justice. Judge Ronald N. Davies was right. Justice Antonin Scalia is not.
Introducing a code of judicial conduct for U.S. Supreme Court justices is essential. Amen.