Progressive politics and the quest for civil rights were in

Oswald Garrison Villard

‘s blood. His grandfather was the great abolitionist

William Lloyd Garrison

. His mother was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement, his father the owner of the literary supplement to the New York Evening Post, a k a The Nation. So it was no surprise that when the modern civil rights movement emerged from the ashes of the 1908 Springfield race riots, Villard was one of its driving forces.

It began in January 1909 when

Mary White Ovington


Henry Moskowitz


William English Walling

met in New York to organize a group they hoped would aggressively address the country’s racial issues. The trio invited Villard, then president of the New York Evening Post Company (nepotism occasionally has its benefits), to join them. Villard helped organize the subsequent convention out of which the

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

(NAACP) was born. When the fledgling organization began to founder, it was Villard who kept it together; and when the decision was made to pursue justice in the courts, it was Villard who took the lead in forming the NAACP’s legal arm, which would prove so instrumental to the movement’s success, culminating in its historic legal victory in Brown v. Board of Education.

The Nation has a proud history, but its connection through Villard, who became its editor and owner upon his father’s death in 1918, to the most righteous of all Supreme Court decisions may be among its greatest legacies. Look for a special section celebrating Villard and the NAACP on our website this month.


When Honduran President

Manuel Zelaya

–who was rousted out of his bed on June 28 by armed soldiers and forced into exile–took office in early 2006, unionists, peasant activists and reformers expected little of the center-right politician. So did the elite Honduran families who control the country’s media, banking, agricultural, manufacturing and narcotics industries. “You are only temporary, while we are permanent,” they told him soon after his inauguration.

But the reality of governing a country where more than 60 percent live in poverty tends to reinforce a left slant. Over the past two years Zelaya has adopted a progressive agenda, including steering his country into the

Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas



, two regional economic alliances backed by Venezuela to wean Latin America from its dependence on the United States.

For the elite, however, Zelaya took a step too far when he began to push for the convocation of a constitututional assembly in order to democratize Honduras’s notoriously exclusionary political system. The US media have falsely presented this as a power grab, an effort to end term limits to allow Zelaya to run for re-election. But the referendum simply asks Hondurans to vote on whether or not to have a vote on revising the Constitution, with the terms of that revision left to an elected assembly.

Latin America has demonstrated a remarkable degree of unanimity in condemning the coup and demanding Zelaya’s return to power. The

Organization of American States

gave Honduras a July 3 deadline to restore Zelaya or face expulsion from the organization.

Barack Obama

also issued strong words against Zelaya’s overthrow, but the State Department has been more circumspect. It is reluctant to use the word “coup,” which would trigger automatic sanctions. Likewise, according to

John Negroponte

, Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton

is working to “preserve some leverage to try and get Zelaya to back down from his insistence on a referendum.”

As of this writing, the new regime has cracked down on the media and instituted a curfew, with reports of escalating repression by security forces against Zelaya supporters. According to the

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

, thirty people have either gone missing or have been detained. With Honduras on the brink, Washington should resist any temptation to attach conditions on Zelaya’s return and fully support inter- national efforts to resolve the crisis. “This is a golden opportunity,” Costa Rica’s former Vice President

Kevin Casas-Zamora

said, for Obama “to make a clear break with the past and show that he is unequivocally siding with democracy, even if [some in Washington] don’t necessarily like the guy.”   GREG GRANDIN


If there are any lingering doubts about how neatly Judge

Sonia Sotomayor

fits within the mainstream of the American judiciary, those concerns can be put to rest by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case conservatives had hoped would “disqualify” her. The 5-4 decision in

Ricci v. DeStefano

–which arose after the city of New Haven, Connecticut, tossed out a fire department promotional exam that appeared to favor white test-takers– confirmed what everyone knew: there are deep divisions with regard to affirmative action. But nothing in the Court’s ruling pointed to Sotomayor as an outlier.

Sotomayor sat on an appeals court panel that said the city acted appropriately; the High Court majority disagreed. The important thing to remember is that Sotomayor wasn’t the “judicial activist.” She stood with a lower court on the side of what veteran court-watchers such as

Linda Greenhouse

identify as “settled precedent” on employment law. “Judge Sotomayor and her colleagues played by the old rules, and the Court changed them,” says Greenhouse. There are points at which the Supreme Court can and must establish new precedents, but when this happens–as in the great civil rights cases of the 1950s and ’60s–great care is usually taken to establish solid majorities and sound arguments. Instead of doing that, the Court’s current majority pushed the limits of the law so recklessly that Justice

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

wrote in her pointed dissent, “The Court’s order and opinion, I anticipate, will not have staying power.”

Let’s hope Ginsburg is right. But no matter where the High Court goes next, it will likely do so with Sotomayor. As one of the nation’s leading conservative commentators on legal matters, Case Western Reserve University law school professor

Jonathan Adler

admitted after the ruling came down, “The case does not suggest that she is a radical or outside of the legal mainstream.” Adler concluded, “I find it (almost) inconceivable that she will not be confirmed. A 5-4 reversal, even on a contentious, high-profile issue, will not change that.”    JOHN NICHOLS