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Straight from the Mike… The Invisible Asterisk


We are truly living in very interesting times. The recent euphoria over the ‘don’t go but here’s your hat’ treatment accorded Supreme Court Justice Breyer coupled with the declaration by President Biden that his upcoming nomination appointment would be a black woman jurist. 

Wow!  We are in the very midst of Black History Month. The valued and repeated quote of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, “…. not the color of your skin, but the content of one’s character” rings loud as ever. However, it will ring ever so hollow if the president persists in fulfilling his promise. A promise was made in the heat of the presidential campaign and, in my opinion, put forth for a number of wrong reasons. I can appreciate his personal sentiment, but frankly, he could just have filed it away for future reference. 

It may be important here for you to know a couple of key points about the underpinnings that helped to form the basis for my feelings. First of all, I have been an ardent supporter of affirmative action my entire business career. Moreover, you do not need 25 years of corporate experience to know that the playing field of society has a noticeable slant, so much that if it were to be runoff from a rainy night in Georgia, significant flooding would occur in areas down from the field. It was uneven then, it is uneven now.

The ruse of the affirmative action detractors portraying the plan would bring about a rise of incompetents in positions is as red a herring as a Valentine card addressed to your sweetheart. As a businessman, I can assure you, one does not want to hire or be forced to hire an incompetent associate or partner. It is a zero-sum game, to say the least.

Furthermore, I have had up close and personal experience with the judicial selection system. My first cousin, now retired from the bench, was nominated and confirmed 99-0 by the US Senate to her appointment to the 4th Circuit of Appeals out of Richmond, VA. , during the Bush presidency. One of the background investigators into her judicial record and writings confided in me that he would not be at all surprised if she did not get a shot at the next level up. However, as fate would have it, with the GOP gap between President Bush and Trump terms, she gently passed that ideal age span necessary for consideration. 

My point is she would have been somewhat chagrined at a special selection to the highest court in the land-based on her skin color and only her judicial excellence in that special class; not be the ‘pick of the entire litter’.   

Say, how does a black Dad get comfortable enough to explain to his aspiring attorney daughter that it’s ok to aim for the ‘middle rung’ in lieu of the ‘top rung’ on the ladder of judicial success?

Look, I have no problem with a shortlist. A shortlist with diversity being evident in the mix would be ideal, by my standards. By the way, for what it’s worth, I do not recall overflowing diversity in the list put forth by former President Trump.

My message here is quite simple. I believe the cream always rises to the top. I am not comfortable, despite the opening from the gallery, with even a mental asterisk being used in the annals of history for a black woman Supreme Court justice. You can call me naive or you can feel that I am off base. The late Justice Thurgood Marshall got there. The current Justice Clarence Thomas got there. A bona fide black woman jurist could get there too, in an open field of candidates. 

Author Jason Riley put it best for this situation in his book titled, “ Please stop trying to help us.” And of course, one should not forget the words of the late singer James Brown, “Just show me the door, I can open it myself.”

Until next time, 

Michael Murphy


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