RCC gets political on Constitution Day

By Kevin Spradlin

HAMLET — Same-sex marriage. Slavery. Electing judges versus appointing them.

North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jackson‘s presentation ran the gamut Wednesday afternoon inside the Joseph W. Grimsley Health and Sciences Building at Richmond Community College in Hamlet. The event was organized by Elgin Emanuel, History instructor at RCC.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com NC Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jackson

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
NC Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jackson

Some issues she brought up herself; other questions were raised by an engaged audience of more than 50 students, RCC staff, faculty and trustees and campus visitors, which included state Sen. Gene McLaurin, Chief District Court Judge Scott Brewer and Richmond County District Attorney Reece Saunders.

Jackson’s presentation was in conjunction with the celebration of Constitution Day. Jackson explained that federal law requires any educational facility that receives public funding conduct an event each Sept. 17 to recognize the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

Bert Unger, a member of RCC’s Board of Trustees, asked Jackson during a post-presentation question-and-answer session how she felt about having judges elected to the Supreme Court. Jackson offered up not her own opinion but that of John Adams.

Adams, she said, was a “very strong advocate of appointing judges for life.” Adams felt that appointed judges would be less likely to be subjected to political whims.

It would take a constitutional amendment to change the current setup, she said, and questioned the political will to make it happen.

“North Carolinians like to vote on who they’re elected officials are,” she said.

One RCC student asked about North Carolina Amendment 1. Voters approved the amendment, which said that same-sex marriages were unconstitutional. In July, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage. According to published reports, the American Civil Liberties Union plans to next take aim at North Carolina’s ban.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Christi Miles, 30, of ROckingham, is working towards her degrees in Accounting and Business Administration at Richmond Community College. Attending NC Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jackson's presentation Wednesday fulfilled a core class requirement.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Christi Miles, 30, center, of Rockingham, is working towards her degrees in Accounting and Business Administration at Richmond Community College. Attending NC Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jackson’s presentation Wednesday fulfilled a core class requirement.

Jackson said she could see a group look for a weak spot in the ban by way of the full faith and credit clause. Article IV of the U.S. Constitution states that “full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.”

“I could see them taking a look at it from that aspect,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of possibilities.”

Jackson was asked what case she felt had the most impact on the United States. Easy, she said. In the case of Marbury v. Madison in 1803, Chief Justice John Marshall gave the courts the authority for judicial review. It was a significant piece of what many believed to be the Founding Fathers’ original intent of checks and balances.

There are other cases with more impact on social America, she said, but none more important, more long-lasting, than the right of judicial review. Without the ruling, “the judicial branch doesn’t have a significant role,” she said.

The idea of judicial review didn’t begin with that case, however. Its roots began in North Carolina 16 years earlier in Bayard v. Singletary.

Andy Hollins wrote for NCPedia.org:

“During the American Revolution the government confiscated the land of Loyalists to raise money for the war. People whose land was seized were those who refused to swear an oath of allegiance to North Carolina, maintaining their loyalty to Great Britain instead. Although born in America, Samuel Cornell, a Loyalist, lost his land when it was confiscated by North Carolina. It was later purchased in part by Spyres Singleton. In 1786 Cornell’s daughter,Elizabeth Cornell Bayard, to whom Cornell had willed this property, sued Singleton for the portion of her father’s property that had been left to her. In response, Singleton’s attorneys cited a law passed by the North Carolina legislature in 1785 that said that those who held land purchased under the state’sConfiscation Acts of 1777 and 1779 could not be sued for the return of their land.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

After lengthy consideration, the state court-composed of Judges Samuel AsheSamuel Spencer, andJohn Williams-citing the state constitution, declared that the 1785 act was unconstitutional and those whose property had been seized were entitled to a trial by jury. Although Singleton was able to keep the land based on the state Confiscation Acts, the significance of the case resulted from the court’s overruling of an established act of the legislature.”

“So,” Jackson summarized, “North Carolina was first.”

Jackson talked at length about former state Supreme Court Justice William J. Gaston, who was the subject of her thesis while she attended Duke University. She said Gaston was a complex man; one mired in debt and an outspoken opponent of slavery though a slaveholder himself.

He once spoke to a  group of students at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill — a student body comprised of white, male affluent young men, many of them sons of aristocrats and slaveholders —  that was reportedly well-received despite the general makeup of the audience.

Jackson said Gaston was a fascinating subject.

“I’m very drawn to Gaston’s compassion,” she said.

Jackson noted that Gaston helped the Quakers, whose religious doctrine prevented them from being slaveowners, to create trusts in which — on paper — accomplished exactly that. The Quakers were less than lax in their enforcement of any rules on the slaves they owned, Jackson said.

Gaston also was at the heart of the ruling that authorized a slave’s right to defend himself if his master attacked him without justification. Later, he ruled that blacks were North Carolina citizens and therefore entitled to protections afforded by the state constitution.


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