Jury Discrimination: The Supreme Court, Public Opinion, and a Grassroots Fight for Racial Equality in Mississippi

By Christopher Waldrep | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
The Jury Cases

TO ENFORCE ITS RULES IN THE SOUTH, the Supreme Court
had to contend with the wall of resistance that white Southerners built against
federal “interference.” The Court most candidly acknowledged the limits of
its power after Alabama’s 1901 state constitutional convention openly ousted
blacks from the state’s voter rolls. To this frank insult to the Fifteenth Amend-
ment’s protection of voting rights, Oliver Wendell Holmes responded that he
lacked the “practical power to deal with the people of the State in a body” even
when they voted to violate the Constitution. Better to resolve such affronts po-
litically, Holmes wrote
.1

Yet Holmes made his extraordinary confessions of limited power in a case
involving political action by a state constitutional convention. In other cases,
the Court did not so easily yield its authority—for good reason. In criminal
trials, white Southerners’ power was more vulnerable to the Supreme Court’s
reach than in cases involving elections and legislative action. There were white
Southerners dedicated to the rule of law. John Cashman is a hard person for
modern academics to like: a conservative, a racist, a Confederate, a champion
of the Lost Cause, and a stalwart opponent of labor unions and Populists.
Nonetheless, Cashman urged law and apolitical constitutionalism. Rather
than represent public opinion, Cashman battled to shape it, believing that
law had to surmount public passion. His hopes that ordinary white Mississip-
pians could embrace the rule of law waxed and waned throughout his life. He
struggled, not with inner demons, but with demons more tangible, his neigh-
bors, his readers, his friends, his state, and his region
.

Cashman edited the Vicksburg Evening Post from 1883 until 1914. His
newspaper followed white journalistic conventions; blacks charged with crimes

-153-

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