Panic Street Lawyer: Ides of Deconstruction, Part I

Sunday, 10 March 2013 06:00 AM Written by  Jay Hornack

20130310wap votingrightsact 150Before discussing my dream birthday celebration dinner threesome this week, I need to first list all the “history from 1960s” stories that triggered this dream. In no particular order:

• I experienced an exhibit entitled “1968: The Year That Rocked America” at the Heinz History Center, located in Pittsburgh’s world-famous Strip District.

• I read a preview about “Thurgood,” the one-man play in town about the civil rights attorney who became the first African-American justice on the United States Supreme Court in 1967.

• I watched “Hullabaloo: A ‘60s Flashback” on the local PBS affiliate.

• I heard about the untimely death of Alvin Lee, the British blues-rock guitarist in Ten Years After, who electrified Woodstock in 1969 with his work in their song “I’m Going Home.”

• I listened on C-SPAN to the February 27 Supreme Court oral argument in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the case which addressed the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

OK, back to my dream. An actual birthday on March 11 is Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (77), and joining the justice and me at this imaginary celebratory meal was John Lewis and Barry McGuire. My chosen dinner discussion topic: what we did during the 1960s.

20130310wap selmamarch1965A7 480Alabama state troopers charge into a line of demonstrators making an attempt to march to Montgomery from Selma, Ala. on March 7, 1965. Associated Press photo

The first to speak, sitting to my left at the table, was John Lewis. After pointing out how Justice Scalia and he were born under the same zodiac sign (Pisces) but four years apart, we all wished him a belated happy birthday. Lewis said that, from 1963 to 1966, he was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

20130310wap johnlewis 150Rep. John Lewis (D-GA 5th) Gregory Smith/APAlong with Hossea Williams, Lewis led over 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. They intended to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in Lewis’ home state.

The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as "Bloody Sunday." Lewis’ skull was fractured in the confrontation, and his scars are still visible today. Eight days later – on the Ides of March, 1965 -- President Lyndon Johnson demanded passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a speech before a rare joint session of the U.S. Congress.

Sitting directly across the table from me in this dream is Barry McGuire, who is almost the same age as Justice Scalia (they were born less than five months). From the spring of 1962 to January 1965, McGuire was a member of the folk music group The New Christy Minstrels. As he struggled to make it on his own as a musician, McGuire was introduced to a 19-year-old songwriter and musician named P.F. (Phil) Sloan. The one Sloan song that McGuire says epitomized the continuation of his spiritual, philosophical search at the time was “Eve of Destruction,” with that famous angry refrain:

And you tell me over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Following President Johnson’s March 15, 1965 Voting Rights Act speech, a bill on the subject was filibustered in the U.S. Senate until a successful cloture vote brought it to the floor, where it passed on May 26, 1965. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a voting rights bill on July 9, 1965. McGuire recorded “Eve of Destruction” sometime between July 12 and July 15, 1965 (its official release date was July 21, 1965). The song contained these lyrics:

Yeah, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin'
I'm sitting here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don't pass legislation
And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'

“Eve of Destruction” also reminds us of “Bloody Sunday” three months earlier:

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama

www.barrymcguire.comBarry McGuire www.barrymcguire.comAfter Congress resolved differences between the two bills in conference, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965. Barry McGuire performed “Eve of Destruction” on a September 20, 1965 broadcast of “Hullabaloo” on NBC.

Turning to my right, I was anxious to hear how Justice Scalia spent the 1960s. He said that, after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1960, he was an associate at the Jones Day law firm in Cleveland from 1961 to 1967. As he said last year in a speech at the University of Chicago, Scalia has a fond view of his 1960s years, saying that his Cleveland law job allowed him to “maintain a human existence … [with] time for your family, your church or synagogue, community … boy scouts, little league.”

Well, now I finally had something to contribute to my own dream dinner discussion! I never led a civil rights march or sang a song that made it to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. But I did live in Cleveland in the 1960s, spending time with my family, going to church, and playing little league baseball. So I can share my memories of those times – from the perspective of a white boy in grade school. Full disclosure: I lived in the city from 1957 to the summer of 1964, when my family moved to a south suburb of Cleveland (where my parents still live today).

The years 1961-1967 contain a number of “glory days” moments for Cleveland: the Browns winning the NFL championship (1964), the Barons winning the Calder Cup (1964), the Beatles invading Cleveland Stadium (1966). It was also the “glory days” of steel, when that industry provided steady middle-class income to many families. Sure, the pro baseball team stunk and so did the air, but my Cleveland childhood memories are mostly positive.

20110922 antoninscalia 150Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. APBut there were two other events during that period that I would love to ask Scalia about today: the 1966 civil disturbance in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland and the 1967 election of Carl Stokes as the first African-American mayor of a major U.S. city. How did living in close proximity to those events in a northern state affect Scalia’s legal views on the Fifteen Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965? I will deconstruct some of Scalia’s writings on race in America since 1967 to see if that helps us to predict how he will vote in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder in 2013.

And I have more questions to ask of my dinner guests. Do any of you have thoughts to share on the life’s work of the others? What have John Lewis and Barry McGuire been doing since the 1960s? And what did the music from that period speak to Scalia, if anything?

Answers next week …

(Top image: U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965. AP Photo)

The Panic Street Lawyer is a personal opinion column by attorney Jay Hornack. Contact him right here at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow Jay on Twitter: @panicstlawyer

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