Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blockbuster Rulings: The Court Giveth and the Court Taketh Away

Chris Hayes last week predicted accurately that the Supreme Court would split on two blockbuster issues: the Voting Rights Act and the right to gay marriage – hamstrung by the federal defense of marriage act. Yesterday one ruling came down which still has the liberal base in a fit, which is that the Court struck down key provisions (based on ‘preclearance) in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The ruling was described as “shameless” by the Washington Post and a terrible step back by others. Make no mistake, the law was and is needed in the once Jim Crow South which is still Jim Crow in many areas.

As one Court watcher put it last night on Hayes’ ‘All in’ (MSNBC), it is “like taking an umbrella and throwing it away because you don’t believe it will ever rain again”. In many respects she’s correct. And nearly all the recent electoral problems - looking at the last presidential election – were only resolved because of the provisions that were struck down yesterday. This means that minus those ‘preclearance’ provisions we can expect an unseemly surge in voter ID laws across the nation and especially in the states of the former Confederacy. Those laws will be as formidable an obstacle to African –American voting rights as the literacy and other tests once administered in the South to blacks before the Voting Rights Act was passed.

To see more on this, gain deeper insights into the role of the corporatocracy, check out:

Basically, Chief Justice Roberts (in league with his coterie of conservative clowns) was saying that: “Hey, we have had enough change and progress on this issue, we don’t need any more!” Which is daft and stupid. Because make no mistake 48 years has not been sufficient to alter enough minds in the Deep South to ensure African –Americans' voting rights aren’t eroded. We have also seen in the 2012 election all the ruses and tactics used to try to suppress African-American votes. One case in  (Shelby) Alabama was especially prominent, as well as another in Texas. Thanks to the VRA’s provisions, attorney General Eric Holder was able to challenge the state decisions and come down on the side of voters. Without such DOJ intercessions Obama may well have lost back in November, who knows?

What feasible responses are there? One judicial watcher also appearing on Hayes’ show noted there are two: 1) Getting congress to re-establish the key provisions of the VRA, which is about as likely as aliens landing from Tau Ceti and helping Ed Snowden escape this surveillance planet, and 2) An affected person of color with “standing” bringing the case again before the courts. Of course, that would portend a long drawn out court battle just to get back to the Supremes, and there’s no assurance that its composition would change to be more liberal or disposed to retain the provisions.

On the other hand, this morning’s just released ruling has seen a 5-4 decision that overturns the Federal ‘Defense of Marriage Act’- which has been ruled unconstitutional. Swing Justice Anthony Kennedy was again the pivot vote as he was in the Voting Rights Act, but his language didn’t mince words, writing:

“DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”

He added that it also “demeaned” those in same sex marriage or aspiring to such, depriving them of rights, benefits that are conferred on others.

The court said DOMA violated equal protection to provide benefits to heterosexual couples while denying them to gay couples in the 12 states plus the District of Columbia where same-sex couples may marry. The law passed by bipartisan majorities in Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton recognized marriage as only between one man and one woman.

Same sex couples will now be able to draw on the same benefits that attend to hetero –couples, including access to estates- property, pension and joint tax filing benefits, as well as health care benefits.

For any true American dedicated to the ideal of liberty and freedom, this is a ruling that ought to be extolled, together with the Court basically punting on the Proposition 8 issue  - because of "lack of standing" - meaning California same sex couples will now be empowered to pursue their goals there.

Whether this DOMA ruling compensates for the repeal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act remains to be seen. My take is that if you erode one segment of the population's liberties you ultimately erode all others. You can't have "cafeteria style" dispensing of liberties or rights, and let us recall that voting is not assured under the Constitution, amazingly enough.

No comments: