"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," the Rev.
The arc of American history, at least, has a different shape. During the 19th century, a high point for justice was reached after the Civil War, with Reconstruction
This tragic history haunts us today as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Reconstruction: the Civil Rights Act, the
LBJ pushed the Civil Rights Act through
This "mandate" is often overlooked in telling the story of Johnson's masterful leadership in pushing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through Congress. While his constant arm-twisting was important, his landslide victory over Goldwater, including in much of the South, demonstrated that Americans overwhelmingly supported his demand for an end to all forms of voting discrimination. It also opened space for Republicans such as Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen to build bipartisan support for the president's initiatives.
Goldwater's crushing defeat also allowed
The Second Reconstruction, unlike the first, was a bipartisan collaboration, with political leaders joining with the civil rights movement in large acts of statesmanship that gained the consent of the American people in a series of sweeping electoral victories.
Despite the remarkable character of this achievement, the arc of justice is now once again in sharp decline, during America's Second Gilded Age.
The Supreme Court is playing a leading role in this act of betrayal. Just as the 19th century court struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which would have banned discrimination in public accommodations and transportation, the Roberts court has struck down key provisions of the modern Voting Rights Act. What is more, it keeps chipping away at other basic principles established during the civil rights era, as in last week's decision on affirmative action in university admissions. If these dynamics continue, the annual celebration of
The way to stop this runaway court is through presidential leadership of the kind we saw half a century ago. In 2016, as in 1964, each party will offer very different visions of our constitutional future: the Republicans defending the Roberts court, the Democrats attacking it. If a Democrat triumphs, he or she will be in a position to fill Supreme Court vacancies with new justices who could call a halt to the further destruction of the civil rights legacy. As in Goldwater's case, a Republican defeat might well open a space for a new generation of leaders determined to reclaim the party's Lincolnian legacy.
But it's easy to tell another story, one in which Republican victories in 2016 and 2020 serve to accelerate the Roberts court's assault on the Second Reconstruction.
Only one thing is clear: As Americans celebrate the civil rights achievements of the day-before-yesterday, their actions in the not-too-distant future will shape the arc of constitutional justice for a very long time to come.