The Supreme Court Is Not Supposed to Have This Much Power

And Congress should claw it back.

Only after Republicans lost control of Congress in 1875 was the Court able to enforce its contrary interpretations of the Constitution—to devastating effect. In the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 and related cases, the Court refused to enforce federal civil-rights laws on the theory that the newly enacted Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments gave Congress no power against private racial violence or discrimination in public accommodations. For the next half century—as part of what the historian W. E. B. Du Bois called the “counter-revolution of property”—the Court condemned the Reconstruction Congress as a group of unprincipled fanatics. And it invented new doctrines that authorized the Court to invalidate federal legislation that it thought went too far toward interfering with white business interests. It was during this period that judicial supremacy took hold as a dominant ideology in the United States.


This bears repeating: Judicial supremacy is an institutional arrangement brought to cultural ascendancy by white people who wanted to undo Reconstruction and the rise of organized labor that had followed. And that makes sense, as judicial supremacy can harness the power of an entrenched minority and use that power to undermine the more democratic legislative branch. Decades after the Court in Marbury v. Madison first anticipated that it might disagree with Congress about a federal law’s constitutionality, the justices finally convinced skeptics of the need for this authority by disempowering Congress and unraveling its legislative efforts to establish political equality.


Paul Finkelman: America’s ‘Great Chief Justice’ was an unrepentant slaveholder In the nearly 150 years since Reconstruction, the thrust of judicial supremacy has continued to be revanchist. Through the 21st century, the justices overwhelmingly have exercised their claim of supremacy over Congress to insulate the wealthy and powerful from federal labor laws, federal voting laws, federal civil-rights laws, federal campaign-finance laws, and federal health-care laws. Decisions such as Citizens United and Shelby County are typical examples of how the Court has overruled Congress to make it harder for ordinary people to participate in American democracy on equal terms. But their damage goes beyond even that: Because the limits of our constitutional imagination can extend no further than the opinions of those who happen to sit on the Court, judicial supremacy has also impoverished what we think is possible through democratic politics—and through organizing for political change at the national level.


In the nearly 150 years since Reconstruction, the thrust of judicial supremacy has continued to be revanchist. Through the 21st century, the justices overwhelmingly have exercised their claim of supremacy over Congress to insulate the wealthy and powerful from federal labor laws, federal voting laws, federal civil-rights laws, federal campaign-finance laws, and federal health-care laws. Decisions such as Citizens United and Shelby County are typical examples of how the Court has overruled Congress to make it harder for ordinary people to participate in American democracy on equal terms. But their damage goes beyond even that: Because the limits of our constitutional imagination can extend no further than the opinions of those who happen to sit on the Court, judicial supremacy has also impoverished what we think is possible through democratic politics—and through organizing for political change at the national level.

Rather than look to the Court to glimpse some fundamental truth from scant constitutional text, Americans ought to demand that their elected representatives engage in the hard work of national lawmaking. Congress must act, even if it means overriding the interpretations of the Court and reshaping its jurisdiction. Encouragingly, members of the House have recently passed bills to enforce their understanding of what federal laws our nation demands and our Constitution permits—including reproductive freedom and voting rights. But the bills have all stalled in the Senate for two reasons that remain within its control. One, the filibuster, will be abolished as soon as 50 senators recognize that a permanently incapacitated Senate is far more destructive than an active Senate that But the other obstacle may be more pernicious: a fear among legislators that there is no point to legislating if the Court will simply invalidate anything Congress achieves.might one day be controlled by an opposing party.

Yet as the Reconstruction Congress recognized, everything the Court has the power to do comes from federal statutes passed by Congress—statutes that a majority of Congress always has the power to amend. Conflicts over constitutional interpretation are not really over who has the best understanding of words inscribed in an old document. They are about who—or which actors in our system of national government—can deliver on a particular, and inherently contested, meaning in the context of our current times. It is a question of political leadership, not legalism.
There is nothing unconstitutional about Congress reasserting its authority to define the nation’s highest law. The experience of Reconstruction brings into view this firmly grounded practice. In fact, a surviving remnant of the Reconstruction Congress’s work—today codified in 42 U.S.C. § 1983—has underwritten some of the most famous cases in modern constitutional law. In Section 1983, Congress instructed federal courts to stop state or local officials from depriving anyone of their “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution.” Section 1983 is what Oliver Brown invoked when he challenged Kansas’s segregation laws in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, what “Jane Roe” invoked to challenge Texas’s abortion law in Roe v. Wade, and what James Obergefell invoked when he challenged Ohio’s same-sex-marriage ban in Obergefell v. Hodges. While these landmark cases invalidated state laws, the justices were following, not undermining, Congress’s orders. The decisions overruling state interpretations of the Constitution don’t represent judicial supremacy, but rather Congress’s ability to make and enforce national constitutional commitments.

It’s June again—that time of year when Americans wake up each morning and wait for the Supreme Court to resolve our deepest political disagreements. To decide what the Constitution says about our bodily autonomy, our power to avert climate change, and our ability to protect children from guns, the nation turns not to members of Congress—elected by us—but to five oracles in robes.
This annual observance of judicial supremacy—the idea that the Supreme Court has the final say about what our Constitution allows—is an odd affliction for a nation that will close the month ready to celebrate our independence from an unelected monarch. From one perspective, our acceptance of this supremacy reflects a sense that our political system is simply too broken to address the most urgent questions that we confront. But it would be a mistake to see judicial supremacy as a mere symptom of our politics and not a cause.


Contrary to what many people have come to believe, judicial supremacy is not in the Constitution, and does not date from the founding era. It took hold of American politics only after the Civil War, when the Court overruled Congress’s judgment that the Constitution demanded civil-rights and voting laws. The Court has spent the 150 years since sapping our national representatives of the power to issue national rules. These judicial decisions have destroyed guardrails that national majorities deemed vital to a functional, multiracial democracy—including protecting the right to vote and curbing the influence of money in politics. Even worse, the Court’s assertion of the power to invalidate federal laws has stripped Americans of the expectation, once widely shared, that the most important interpretations of the Constitution are expressed not by judicial decree but by the participation of “We, the People,” in enacting national legislation.


In the decades before the Civil War, when national parties violently contested the constitutionality of slavery west of the Mississippi, the center of gravity was Congress. As the historian James Oakes recounts, when a border-state senator proposed asking the Supreme Court to decide the issue in 1848, other senators ridiculed his idea as implausible. “The Constitution was interpreted as variously as the Bible,” Senator John P. Hale of New Hampshire responded. White southerners believed “the Constitution carries slavery with it,” while northerners construed the Constitution “to secure freedom.” As Hale and his contemporaries appreciated, resolving such a fundamental national disagreement could never turn on a court’s answer to which interpretation was more correct. Rather, the winning interpretation would depend on whether adherents could build sufficient political majorities to control the national government. The Supreme Court did attempt to decide the question in its infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision—interpreting the Constitution to hold that the federal government lacked the power to abolish slavery anywhere in the United States. But rather than accept this novel assertion of judicial supremacy over Congress, the Republican Party responded with defiance. Indeed, Abraham Lincoln successfully ran for president on a platform of repudiating the Court with national legislation. In his inaugural address, he remarked that “the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court,” then “the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”

Through the Civil War and the Reconstruction era that followed, the politically dominant Republicans in Congress enacted legislation to build a multiracial democracy in the United States for the first time. Some of these laws boldly overruled the Court, including statutes in 1862 and 1866 that began the abolition of slavery and recognized the citizenship of Black people. Others prevented the Court from retaliating against Congress’s interpretation of the Constitution, such as legislation stripping the Court of jurisdiction over certain matters. Still others enlisted the Court in the project of enforcing Congress’s constitutional judgments. Acts in 1870 and 1871 instructed federal courts to enforce the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments against recalcitrant state officials, while acts in 1870 and 1875 tasked judges with banning voting restrictions, lynch mobs, and racial discrimination.

Congressional checks on the Supreme Court are also very different from the calls for “nullification” by slaveholders before the Civil War, their descendants during the civil-rights movement, and Texas legislators today. The Civil War itself resolved that the representatives of states must enforce their constitutional interpretations not by defying the government created by the Constitution but by participating in it. For the past two centuries, Congress has been the branch of the federal government where our democracy’s pursuit of equal justice under law has most often been realized. The question is not whether some commitments—abolition, reproductive freedom, racial equality—are worth making supreme and constitutive of a national American identity. Rather, the question is who gets to decide the content of those commitments for all Americans: the 50 states, a five-justice majority, or our national legislature.


If the Court is today eviscerating those very constitutional commitments through its case law, Congress should enact or amend federal statutes to advance a different understanding of a nation built on democratic justice. It should reshape the Court’s ability to intervene in these disputes, including by restricting the Court’s authority to set aside federal legislation. And it should conscript the Court in enforcing federal commitments when resistant state officials brazenly declare that the national government has no jurisdiction to protect Americans from their parochial rule.
The thing stopping Congress from reversing each wrongheaded decision the Court issues this month therefore isn’t the Constitution. It’s our failure to demand more from our elected representatives.


The promise of a genuinely multiracial democracy will fade if Americans are unwilling to embrace structural reforms that can make our policies and our politics more responsive to majority rule. How Congress allocates the power to interpret the Constitution should be at the heart of those reforms. We simply cannot build a better politics if we don’t reclaim the authority of Congress to resolve our most fundamental disagreements. Rather than allow a handful of us to define the Constitution’s meaning in a mystical ritual each June, the rest of us should define it with the hard, messy work of American politics year-round.

What Will Chris Smalls Do Next?He did the impossible: Unionize an Amazon warehouse. Then the hard part began.

In early April, Chris Smalls drove down Canal Street, a blunt in his left hand and an iPhone in his right. He somehow juggled the steering wheel, too, guiding his boat-size Chevy Suburban through Saturday-evening traffic, glancing every so often over the wheel before looking back at the YouTube video playing on his phone. As the leader of the Amazon Labor Union, the first group in the country to successfully unionize an Amazon facility, he had been busy. He had already given two interviews that day, talked to a potential donor, and discussed renting an 11,000-square-foot space for the union’s headquarters. In recent days, he had fielded dozens of messages from workers across the country seeking advice about organizing their own Amazon warehouses as well as media requests from places like The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. “I’ve gotten messages like, ‘Yo, we need you to save the country’; ‘We need you to save gun laws’; ‘We need you to save abortion rights,’ ” he told me. “I’m the savior now of everything.”

Spending time with a 34-year-old whose to-do list is topped by “Save the world” had proved difficult, which is why I was riding around with him in his car — he was juggling me, too. Smalls stubbed out the blunt and turned up the volume on the YouTube video. The clip featured Jimmy Dore, the left-leaning comedian, talking about Smalls’s recent appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight. Smalls was slammed on Twitter for appearing on the program, and he was annoyed by the suggestion that he was a pawn being played by Fox News. “Do people think there aren’t any Tucker Carlson fans who work at Amazon?” Smalls asked. “This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans, bro — it’s about workers.” Dore was making a similar point. “The video makes Christian Smalls look great,” Dore said. “I love the fact that he’s not wearing a shirt and tie and he’s just being radical.”
At that, Smalls smiled with satisfaction, his gold grills glinting. He was decked out in what he called “union drip”: Versace sunglasses, diamond earrings, chains coiled around his neck. The bling is a core part of his appeal and his politics. For working stiffs used to being bossed around by, well, their bosses, it epitomizes the belief that 40 hours of work a week should afford people more than just basic survival. It should buy a decent apartment, some savings, and maybe even jewel-encrusted fronts — Smalls’s version of bread and roses.

His fashion sense has spawned thousands of #UnionDrip hashtags and grabbed the attention of fashion designers and Hollywood. His image has also resonated with today’s blue-collar labor force, especially at Amazon, where the workforce skews young and three-quarters are Black and brown. His ALU is part of a burgeoning movement led by young workers instead of professional activists and without the support of traditional labor unions, whose bureaucratic professionalism and nonconfrontational tactics are considered by some to be stale and ineffective. Smalls calls this the “new school” labor movement, and he is its most visible practitioner. “They’re looking at me,” Smalls said of old-school unions like the SEIU, which he blames — along with Democrats — for abandoning low-wage workers and being too cozy with big business to rein in billionaires like Jeff Bezos. “If they was doing shit, they’d probably get some attention too. But they ain’t doing shit.” Switching to the third person, he said, “Chris is actually putting in the work.”
Smalls has been celebrated by everyone from President Joe Biden to Jesse Jackson as the prime author and strategist of what the New York Times called “one of the biggest victories for organized labor in a generation,” which came amid spiking rates of union activity across the country, with employees organizing at Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, REI, Activision, and Apple. But until he was fired in March 2020, Smalls was just another worker at the JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island, where he and 8,000 other employees packed up and shipped nearly every sex toy, phone charger, book, and roll of toilet paper that New York City residents ordered from Amazon.com. He formed the ALU in an audacious attempt to reform the second-largest private employer in America. Last year, Amazon spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants; on the day of its victorious union vote, the ALU, then a ragtag group of 20 members, had just $3 left in its bank account.
Since then, Smalls’s task has been to prove that his union could replicate its first win. He dreams of organizing every Amazon facility in the U.S. — that’s hundreds of thousands of workers. As the ALU’s leader, it is Smalls’s job to use his charm and clout to raise funds, corral sympathetic politicians, attract new members, and put pressure on Amazon to capitulate to the union’s demands. By making himself as well known as possible, in other words, Smalls hopes to expand the size and power of his union. “It’s a lot of pressure,” he told me, “but my voice was meant for something bigger than packing up boxes in a warehouse.”
That project, however, has already run into setbacks. On May 2, a vote to unionize a Staten Island sorting warehouse, LDJ5, failed, arresting the ALU’s momentum. Amazon has brought a case before the National Labor Relations Board to have the victory at JFK8 thrown out in a trial that is expected to be decided in August. And as the ALU prepares for contract negotiations for JFK8 that could drag on for years, the organization has been mired in infighting stemming from the perception that Smalls is now too busy being a celebrity to join his comrades in the trenches. “He thinks everything is about Chris Smalls,” Most Daley, an ALU member, told me. “We’re supposed to be a worker-led union, and he ain’t a worker no more.”

Smalls bristles at the notion that he has abandoned the ALU, underscoring that the success of this union specifically and the new-school movement more broadly has so far been powered by his prominence — his celebrity serves the movement, he insists, not the other way around. He noted that his critics “wouldn’t last one fucking day in my shoes. You want to be on TV? You want to travel the country? You want to have the weight of the world on your shoulders? Sure, take it all.”
Helping millions of workers rise up against a new American oligopoly may be too much to expect of a single person. But as we drove down Canal Street on that bright day, just two weeks after the JFK8 vote and before the LDJ5 debacle, Smalls seemed to have no limits. He cranked the wheel of the Suburban and steered onto Mulberry Street, where he hoped to hit the bars. (The previous night, he partied nearby with Paperboy Prince until 3 a.m.) He slotted the giant SUV into an impossibly small parking space on Baxter Street, bumping the Saab in front of him to fit. Then he stepped into the street and slipped his arms into a red satin jacket. On its back was stitched in big blood-orange letters EAT THE RICH.

What Happened in California Is a Cautionary Tale for Us All

A voter-approved measure strips gig workers of basic protections enjoyed by employees in other businesses.

What happened in California? Despite the state’s liberal reputation, voters there last week approved Proposition 22, a ballot initiative exempting many gig companies from state workplace laws and stripping their workers of basic, essential protections.

Uber, Instacart, Lyft, DoorDash and other on-demand providers of ride-shares and food and grocery deliveries spent $200 million pushing the proposal, an astounding sum that workers and their allies couldn’t remotely hope to match. Not surprisingly, Californians were misled by an avalanche of claims about the proposal’s impact on workers. The measure, which takes effect next month, was approved with 58 percent of the vote.

Emboldened by the results in California, Uber and friends are apparently planning to take the show on the road. Potential targets could include Massachusetts or New Jersey, where state regulators have pursued them, or New York or Pennsylvania, where courts have rejected the argument by gig companies that workers run their own independent businesses. The rest of us need to understand what happened in California.

What was at stake with Proposition 22 was whether workers for app-based driver and delivery companies would be considered employees under California statutes, which like workplace laws nationwide, cover only employees, or whether they should be classified as independent contractors. Proponents argued that requiring gig companies to follow current laws would badly damage their on-demand business model and result in longer wait times, higher prices and the loss of countless jobs. These were the same bleak prognostications gig companies made about the minimum wage for drivers that New York City enacted two years ago — predictions that did not come to pass.

What they didn’t say was that it was a terrible deal for workers. Allowing companies to write their own exemption from California law is also a cautionary tale for our fragile democracy.

Now, workers for these gig companies in California will not have a right, as employees do under state law, to paid sick days, overtime pay, unemployment insurance or a workplace covered by occupational safety and health laws.

How did these companies persuade California voters to approve this snatching of rights from thousands of vulnerable people? They used a deluge of money to convince voters that the proposal served workers’ interests by preserving their flexibility, ensuring a guaranteed level of pay and providing them with “portable” benefits.

Their claims were deceptive.

There’s no law prohibiting flexible or part-time hours for employees. Millions of employees already work part-time or flexible hours. Indeed, these particular industries (ride-share and food delivery) would be unlikely to hire only full-time employees because of the ebb and flow of customer demand.

Under Proposition 22, gig companies will have to pay their contractors 120 percent of the state or local minimum wage. In addition, companies must pay 30 cents per mile for gas and other vehicle-related expenses, adjusted annually for inflation.

But here’s the catch: Workers will be paid only for “engaged time,” defined as the time between receiving a request and dropping off the passenger. This is far less than what’s required under laws for employees, who must be compensated for all work time. About a third of drivers’ work time wouldn’t fall within this definition of “engaged time,” according to a study funded by the companies themselves. Workers will not be paid for time spent getting gas, waiting for a ride request or cleaning and sanitizing their cars.

Plus, 30 cents per mile doesn’t cover all vehicle-related expenses; by comparison, the Internal Revenue Service’s optional standard deductible rate for the costs of operating a car for business is 57.5 cents per mile. And as independent contractors, drivers won’t have a right to overtime pay for long workweeks, as is required for employees. In light of all this, a study by three research groups at the University of California, Berkeley, found that Uber and Lyft drivers would be guaranteed only an estimated $5.64 per hour. This no doubt would have surprised 40 percent of those in a survey of early voters who said they had supported Proposition 22 to ensure workers earned livable wages.

Finally there is the issue of benefits. Gig companies have used snazzy “portable” benefits language, but Proposition 22 gives workers crumbs compared to what it takes away. Companies must provide a “health care subsidy” to people working at least 15 hours of “engaged time.” At 30 weekly hours, the subsidy would average about $1.22 per hour, or just over $36.00 a week, according to one analysis, a paltry sum compared with what workers would receive as employees who are paid for all of their work time — not just two-thirds of it.

And of course, rights are meaningful only if they are enforceable. If a company pays less than what’s required, shaves hours or doesn’t pay the health care subsidy, Proposition 22 is silent about what mechanism workers can use to enforce those pay and subsidy rights.

The kicker? Unlike most laws, which require only a majority vote of the State Legislature to revise, Proposition 22 requires the vote of seven-eighths of the Legislature to make any changes.

These are the truths that can be buried by well-funded advertising campaigns of large corporations collaborating to write their own rules. And this, in the end, is what’s most dangerous about Proposition 22. Companies shouldn’t be able to do this. Surely, lots of other industries would like to avoid paying unemployment insurance taxes, sick days or overtime. Surely, food manufacturers would like an exemption from safety requirements and inspections, and chemical companies would save a bundle if they got an exemption from environmental laws.

But that’s not how our system is supposed to work.

California has always been a bellwether. This time, let’s not follow its lead.

Daily Brief: Important Facts

Thousands of people in cities across the U.S. took to the streets over the weekend to protest violent tactics used by federal agents against protesters in Portland, Oregon. In Seattle, police declared a Black Lives Matter protest to be a riot and pepper-sprayed 2,000 people. In Austin, a motorist shot protester Garrett Foster dead while he was pushing his wife’s wheelchair. Meanwhile, some protesters took it right to the top, with dozens demonstrating outside the Virginia home of acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

Police Declare Riots as More Protest Federal Tactics

Sources: NYTWashington PostThe Hill

In Four Days, Virus Cases Rise by 1 Million

It’s gotten so bad, even North Korea has acknowledged having one suspected case. Last Wednesday, global coronavirus cases topped 15 million. By Sunday it was 16 million, with 646,000 deaths. Where are the outbreaks? Nearly everywhere, the worst being America’s 4.2 million cases and nearly 147,000 deaths. It’s even surging in places where the virus seemed in check, like Hong Kong and Vietnam, which is ejecting 80,000 tourists. Elsewhere, the U.K.’s health minister has urged Britons to eat less — a quixotic attempt to cut COVID-19 risks associated with obesity.

Sources: CNNABCAl Jazeera

New Low in China Relations as US Consulate Closes

This morning Old Glory was lowered and a container was hoisted onto a truck at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, China. Chinese authorities had given the Americans 72 hours to clear out — the same deadline imposed on Chinese diplomats in Houston, who shuttered their mission last week amid Washington’s espionage claims. While there are plenty of reasons for the world’s top economic powers to sink to their worst relationship in decades, some experts fear this could be the end of a policy of engagement that has kept the peace for a half-century.

Sources: ReutersLA Times

Congress Haggles Over Helping Hard-Hit Americans

The extra $600-per-week unemployment benefit Americans have depended upon during the pandemic downturn has effectively already expired for many due to the way states process such aid. But Congress is locked in a battle over whether to extend it, with Republicans saying it discourages people from returning to work — and instead proposing a $1 trillion relief bill that would include a new round of $1,200 checks. Negotiations are expected to take weeks, which could leave many Americans in the lurch — right as a federal moratorium on evictions also runs out. 

Sources: WSJ (sub)FT (sub)

Also Important …

The Sudanese government says it’s deploying troops to Darfur to prevent attacks like those on Friday and Saturday that killed 80 people. A new CNN/SSRS poll finds that challenger Joe Biden leads President Trump 51 percent to 46 percent in Florida — and no Republican has won without Florida in nearly a century. And Hurricane Hanna has been downgraded to a tropical depression after causing flooding Sunday in the Texas-Mexico border area, hard-hit by the pandemic.

Coronavirus update: With nearly 424,000 cases, Florida has passed New York as the most infected U.S. state.

Black Lives Matter Protests Around the World

Protesters of all ages, all races, all backgrounds are showing up at Black Lives Matter protests out of love for their fellow human beings. Out of love for George Floyd. Out of love for Breonna Taylor. Out of love for all of the Black people who have lost their lives because of the color of their skin. You can feel this love when you attend a protest. You can see it on the faces of the people all around you. You can hear it in their voices. Sometimes, it flows through the mass of people like a quiet undercurrent. Sometimes, it’s downright joyful. No matter how it’s expressed, it’s always potent, always powerful. And it’s going to change the world for the better. From New York City to Philadelphia, from Amsterdam to Paris, this is what it is like to attend Black Lives Matter protests.

SUBSCRIBE: https://goo.gl/vR6Acb#BlackLivesMatter#Protests#AroundTheWorld This story is a part of our Human Condition series. Come along and let us connect you to some of the most peculiar, stirring, extraordinary, and distinctive people in the world. Got a story idea for us? Shoot us an email at hey [at] GreatBigStory [dot] com Follow us behind the scenes on Instagram: http://goo.gl/2KABeX Make our acquaintance on Facebook: http://goo.gl/Vn0XIZ Give us a shout on Twitter: http://goo.gl/sY1GLY Come hang with us on Vimeo: http://goo.gl/T0OzjV Visit our world directly: http://www.greatbigstory.com

Russell Simmons Documentary Premieres Amid Controversy

PARK CITY, Utah — Outside the Sundance Film Festival premiere of “On the Record,” the documentary about women who have accused the hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct, a truck flashed an electronic sign in support of survivors: “Hold sexual abusers accountable.” Inside, the directors were thanking the festival for its support after Oprah Winfrey backed out as an executive producer.

Drew Dixon, a central figure in “On the Record,” in a scene from the film.Credit…Omar Mullick/Sundance Institute

Simmons has denied the accusations, and Winfrey has said creative differences with the directors led to her withdrawal. But she acknowledged this month that the Def Jam founder had tried to get her to abandon the project: “He did reach out multiple times and attempted to pressure me.”

At the film’s premiere on Saturday, its two directors, Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, seemed to refer to the controversy when Ziering told the crowd, “Thanks to Sundance for standing strong and never blinking.” She added, “These are difficult times. It’s important to stand up for truth, justice and moral authority.”

The audience — which included the Netflix chairman and chief executive Reed Hastings, the CNN chief Jeff Zucker and the actresses Rosanna Arquette and Frances Fisher — was mostly silent during the screening. But applause broke out when the film’s central figure, Drew Dixon, who has accused Simmons of raping her, said, “It’s time to take seriously the plunder of black women.” The crowd also applauded when “On the Record” showed a group of hip-hop D.J.s affirming their support for the accusers.

After the screening, Dixon along with two other women from the documentary, Sil Lai Abrams and Sherri Hines, went onstage to a standing ovation and took part in a Q. and A. along with the directors.

Asked whether the fact that Ziering and Dick are white was one reason the documentary faced pushback, Dixon alluded to deep divisions among African-Americans over the #MeToo movement and whether black men were singled out for their race. The filmmakers “aren’t subject to the incoming pressure that even powerful black people are subject to,” Dixon told the audience. “They listened and deferred to us and centered us.”

Before Winfrey pulled out of the project, she had sought changes in the film to address the broader cultural context of the music industry. What the audience saw on Saturday reflected those changes.

“On the Record” follows Dixon as she weighs whether to take her sexual abuse claims public. Dixon, a 48-year-old former music executive, claims that Simmons raped her in 1995 when she was working for him as a young executive. Simmons has denied all accusations of nonconsensual sex.

Ziering and Dick, who have spent the past decade revealing sexual assault in the military (“The Invisible War”) and on college campuses (“The Hunting Ground”), begin tracking Dixon in the wake of the #MeToo movement, after an explosive column by the screenwriter Jenny Lumet alleging abuse against Simmons. Dixon’s claims are similar, and the film focuses on her as she grapples with her fears about how the black community will respond.

She also admits to idolizing Simmons when he first hired her: “Russell Simmons was who I wanted to be,” she says in the film. “I couldn’t have scripted it better.”

Recalling Anita Hill’s claims against Clarence Thomas when he was nominated for the Supreme Court, and Desiree Washington’s accusations against Mike Tyson, Dixon agonizes over whether she wants to go public, fearing that she is up against a force much larger than herself. “I’m never going to be that person,” she says in the film. “The black community is going to hate my guts.”

The documentary also discusses the culture at the time: misogyny in the music business, both in specifics when it came to hip-hop, and in general terms, pointing out that the rap genre didn’t invent the use of degrading images of women in its music videos. #MeToo founder Tarana Burke is also a frequent voice, adding commentary about black women’s place in the movement, and their feelings of alienation. “Black women feel like they have to support black men,” she said.

The movie returns to the Simmons case and other women’s stories: Abrams, a former model who had a relationship with him, tells her abuse story and the aftermath, when she tried to kill herself. “I’m a failure, a chew toy for men of power,” she says in the documentary. Hines, from the all-female hip-hop group Mercedes Ladies, also tells her story, agonizing over its consequences.

The film concludes with a tearful meeting between Abrams, Dixon and Lumet. The three join together for a survivor’s reunion, part commiseration over their shared experiences, part celebration of their recovery.

“I wish I could have come forward earlier,” Lumet says regretfully. “He could have left everyone else alone.” SOURCE OF THIS STORY: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/25/movies/russell-simmons-documentary-controversy.html

African-American strippers awarded more than $3 million in discrimination case

Five African-American dancers will split more than $3 million awarded to them Wednesday for back pay and suffering while working in a Mississippi strip club. The attorney for Danny’s Downtown Cabaret in Jackson, Bill Walter, said he would ask a federal judge to reduce the award. If the judge doesn’t agree, he said he will appeal.

“Obviously, the client is disappointed in the verdict,” Walter said.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued the club several years ago, alleging that black dancers worked limited hours and were fined $25 if they missed a shift. White strippers were allowed flexible schedules and were not fined for missing work, the commission argued.

he agency also said the manager called one black dancer a racial slur and club owners forced black women to work at another club they owned called Black Diamonds, where conditions and security were worse and dancers were paid less.

“This case shows the EEOC will sue any employer, operating any type of business, who violates federal anti-discrimination laws, especially those who will not stop discriminating even after being given repeated chances to do so,” Rucker said. “The jury … sent a powerful message to Danny’s and any employer who thinks they are above the law.”