Monday, November 28, 2005

Chief Justice Poor Choice for Speaker

Original Chimes Article Here

Editor’s note: Swagman’s commentary on Rehnquist was voluminous enough to warrant two separate articles. For a more factual commentary, see page 20, “Chief Justice Rehnquist’s alarming past.”

Congratulations to Brian Bork on a great article last week. My only criticism of the article was that it focused too much on the sensational. Bork showed that Rehnquist has said and done some pretty appalling things over the years, but it left out of the discussion his consistent pattern of ruling against Native American and minority interests. Never once has Rehnquist ruled in favor of Native American rights, and he has consistently ruled against desegregation efforts. This pattern has continued even when Rehnquist is a minority of one against his colleagues. Does this make him a racist? Rehnquist himself has argued that his rulings were based on a strict constructionist view of the constitution, but as Peter Irons has noted in Brennan v. Rehnquist, this strict constructionist view tends to be selectively applied. Rehnquist holds to this view only when minorities stand to be disadvantaged and not when they would gain. At the very least, it can certainly be agreed upon that Rehnquist is not as sensitive to minority issues as he could be.

His speaking at Commencement is inconsistent with the image Calvin is trying to cultivate for itself as an anti-racist institution. And Rehnquist has been a controversial figure before Bork’s article. His visits to college campuses are frequently accompanied by student protests (perhaps most notably the University of Arizona in 1995).

Even if these student protesters are way off base, the very fact that Rehnquist is associated with this controversy means that Calvin’s invitation to him shows that Calvin is not as sensitive to its minority community as it could be. Of course this is not to say that Calvin should never invite controversial speakers. One of the great things about an institution like Calvin is that it is willing to listen to a wide range of viewpoints. However, there is a profound difference between inviting Rehnquist to speak at the January series and having him speak at commencement.

Commencement is the capstone of at least four years of hard work, and for many the last memories they will take from the institution. And the Commencement speaker, by the very importance of the position, signifies more of an endorsement by the college. Consider how important it was for the college to find someone who reflected Calvin’s Christian tradition. It is too bad Calvin’s multicultural pledge was not given the same significance. Furthermore, it is hard to imagine Calvin choosing a speaker who had even the shadiest of ties to black radicalism.

I think it is inappropriate that Rehnquist will be giving the last word to Calvin’s small, but growing, minority population. But now that Rehnquist has already been invited, Calvin’s administration is in a difficult position. To uninvite Rehnquist would undoubtedly raise some eyebrows, but in the long run I think Calvin will look better if we uninvite Rehnquist for the right reasons rather than let him speak for the wrong ones. And if the administration fails to take the moral high ground, then it’s up to the students and faculty to, in a non-disruptive way, show our disapproval of Rehnquist’s views. After all, why should Calvin students be any less anti-racist than students in Arizona?

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