This week’s meeting of Ramapo’s Supreme Court of the United States, also known as SCOTUS, discussion series centered on the 2015 Supreme Court case Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. As usual, the public forum hosted by the LAWS Convening Group and the Civic and Community Engagement Center was held in the Alumni Lounges.
The SCOTUS discussion series consists of 10 forums, held every Tuesday during the semester. Their purpose is to encourage meaningful, hour-long debates between students interested in cases handled by the Supreme Court in recent years. Pizza is served during each debate, and those students who attend receive participation credit.
The Walker v. Texas case concerns the legality of state-issued license plates featuring the Confederate flag: the Texas chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans – a non-profit organization devoted to the preservation of the memory of soldiers who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War – applied for such a specialty license plate in August of 2009. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles rejected the proposed design, due to the divisiveness inherent to the image. Soon, the case made its way to court, eventually appearing in the Supreme Court’s docket.
While the Supreme Court eventually ruled against the depiction of the Confederate flag on license plates, the students and faculty who attended the event were divided in their opinion upon the matter.
The main point of the debate, which the entire case revolved around, was the question of whether or not images and writing on license plates constituted governmental speech. The students and faculty who attended the SCOTUS discussion were presented with a hypothetical situation in which New Jersey approved license plates featuring the slogan, “Go Ramapo Roadrunners.” Would this license plate imply that the state government held Ramapo in higher regard than other state colleges? Most students disagreed, saying that would not be the case.
However, some students felt that the example of a Ramapo Roadrunners license plate was not germane to the debate, as the Confederate flag is directly related to highly controversial issues, while images of the College are not.
Some students argued that although those in favor of a Confederate-themed license plate may claim that the flag is merely a symbol of Southern pride, it is a pride in a history characterized by the subjugation and dehumanization of human beings.
Other students in turn argued that the Confederate flag is not the symbol of slavery. Their statements were rebutted by students and professors, who argued that the Confederate flag is undeniably a symbol of the Confederate states, which seceded from the Union and instigated the Civil War in an effort to preserve their rights to own humans as property.
The debate concluded in a division of opinion, as some students who left the discussion felt the Supreme Court ultimately made the right decision, while others disagreed.