Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas (caricatures by DonkeyHotey)

In a ‘best of us’ moment, Tom Cotton shows the worst of us

Berry Craig
Berry Craig

A wave of smiles and hugs spread across the otherwise somber crowd Thursday afternoon at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

News had broken, it seemed mainly via iPhone, that the Senate had confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

I got the news on my iPhone as I was looking up at the big memorial wreath on the railing of the balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. I imagined the joy he’d have felt hearing that the Senate had sent the first Black woman to the high court.

The memorial at the Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. (photo by Berry Craig)

But while elation spread through the museum crowd, I remembered what Murray State University historian Brian Clardy told me about being in the happy crowd for President Barack Obama's first inauguration. “While we’re celebrating here in Washington, folks back home are seething,” he warned a woman standing close to him. Clardy meant whites enraged over the election of the first Black president.

A lot of these same white folks have been seething since. They’re still flying their Trump flags, often in tandem with Confederate flags. So Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, a Trump acolyte and potential GOP presidential hopeful in 2024, revved up his pander machine. Like some other Ever-Trumper Republicans seemingly interested in running for president (Sens. Cruz and Hawley come to mind), Cotton is a race-baiter and a demagogue who “clearly thinks racial resentment is a pathway to the White House,” wrote Arkansas Times Senior Editor Max Brantley last year.

Cotton cited Jackson’s time as a federal public defender, which included defending prisoners (not coincidentally nearly all of them persons of color) at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp.

“You know, the last Judge Jackson left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremberg to prosecute the case against the Nazis. This Judge Jackson might have gone there to defend them,” Cotton slimed her.

Justice Robert H. Jackson did take time off the high court to prosecute Nazi war criminals. “But here’s the thing: Jackson not only supported the Nuremberg defendants’ right to counsel, he was a key part of the governing body that enshrined it into international law,” wrote Gillian Brockwell in The Washington Post.

In her article, Brockwell quoted a tweet from John Q. Barrett, a St. John’s University law professor and Jackson scholar: “Justice Robert H. Jackson would deplore this nonsense.”

Clardy called Cotton’s cheap shot at nominee Jackson “perverse and disgusting.”

Justice-to-be Jackson (like the late Justice Jackson) believes in a fundamental principle of American law: everybody has the right to due process, equal protection of the law and a speedy and public trial.

“In all likelihood, Cotton was aware of most if not all of these rights and principles when he made his speech,” Brockwell wrote. “Perhaps as a teen, he, like many American high school students, was forced to watch ‘Gideon’s Trumpet,’ the movie about the case guaranteeing a defendant a right to an attorney. But even if he wasn’t, he surely encountered this in his other studies — like Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Cotton graduated from Harvard Law School.”

Added Clardy: “Cotton knows better. He is a Harvard Law School graduate. He is a United States senator. He owes the country and his constituents an apology for making such a colossal fool of himself with that tortured analogy.”

Hogs — from Arkansas Razorbacks to domestic porkers — will fly before neo-Confederate Cotton says he’s sorry. He may be a clown to Clardy, but he’s a superhero and another Great White Hope to the seethers.

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)


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