Freedom as Political Representation

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“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”

Toni Morrison, Beloved

On April 22, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States in the Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action upheld Michigan’s Proposal 2, an amendment prohibiting the state’s public colleges and universities use of “preferential treatment” on the basis of race in its admissions process. In a plurality opinion offered by Justice Anthony Kennedy, he opines the case “is not about the constitutionality, or the merits, of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education”. He adds, “this case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it.” Opposing these sentiments, Justice Sotomayor adds, “this case is not about ‘who may resolve’ the debate over the use of race in higher education admissions”. She continues, “this case is about how the debate over the use of race-sensitive admissions policies may be resolved—that is, it must be resolved in constitution-ally permissible ways.” While clear both sides had valid arguments to be made on the issue, what is also clear is the underestimation of what really was at stake in that court decision. In all its nuances, the case was an embodiment of a wider conversation of whether the topic of race could be submitted as topical in political conversation and thereon to a referendum of voters. [1]

The importance of this conversation cannot be understated particularly as it evolves into a discussion of freedom and power, of which is characterized by elements of partisan interests and the centrality of representation. The earlier stated stances of the Justices might roughly be interpreted as to whether politics might be used as an instrument of accommodation in settling racial disputes. In that manner, two ideas should strike out as emerging from such considerations. First is the idea as to whether freedom should solely be considered in the political sphere. Second is the idea that freedom should go beyond political determinants.

In some ways, there is some legitimacy with the first argument that freedom inherently contains a political component. However, this political notion should not be confined to political action but also be inclusive of institutions that 

enable the ordinary citizen to keep their representatives accountable. Yet, however, freedom in the modern sense goes beyond the political particularly because it extends beyond a discussion of partisan interests. Freedom is significantly much more than a consideration of group interests but also of individual’s.

The essence of the decision is the Supreme Court has laid out the bare fact that freedom cannot be maintained without politics as was the argument of Justice Kennedy. However, as Justice Sotomayor dissented, freedom cannot be reduced to politics. Politicization of the question of freedom is not the ultimate solution to the problems of the black community. However, that does not mean it cannot form a part of the solution.

Freedom is power. And power, in part, is determined by our ability to exert control across the political dimension.

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