The Supreme Court was center stage this week with major decisions on two of the biggest civil rights issues in the history of this nation. On Tuesday the judges decided to strike down a major article of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This decision was lauded by conservatives for giving more freedom to jim crow states to make voting laws without permission from the federal government. Supporters of the 1965 bill believed this to be judicial activism that struck down a landmark piece of legislation which is still necessary today. On Wednesday the Supreme Court was back as work and came out with a decision on The Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. They found the legislation to be unconstitutional because it infringed upon the rights of people in states that allow same sex marriages. Proponents of marriage equality found the decision to be a victory and a step in the right direction. Supporter of DOMA blasted the decision for a number of reasons, which we will discuss later. The Supreme Court also denied struck down Proposition 8 in California, dismissing a ban on same sex marriage in the state. These decisions all carry a large amount of weight with them on a number of civil rights issues. While I am very happy with the courts decision to get rid of DOMA and Proposition 8, the courts performance this week has left me discouraged with federal judiciary.
First off, the fact that the Supreme Court gutted the most important feature of the Voting Rights Act is sad. It is sad for democracy and for equality. The act was enacted to protect minority voters as the went to vote. No longer could states enact harsh voting laws which aimed to discourage or eliminate the ability of minorities to vote. Minorities in the south were subjected to poll taxes and I.Q tests in order to vote. The law was used in hundred of cases since it was enacted and almost a hundred times in the last ten years. This means that states attempted to enact discriminatory voting laws, even after the Voting Rights Act was signed into law. The mounting of evidence which showed the importance of the law and its usage over the past sixty years was not enough to sway the conservative majority in the Supreme Court. In Chief Justice Roberts’ majority decision he wrote, “Our country has changed.” In effect, he said that racism doesn’t exist enough in this country for protections against voting discrimination to be necessary. Reality says otherwise. Racism still exists, discrimination still exists, and lawmakers have never stopped trying to suppress minority voters. This decision is disgraceful. Justice Ginsburg puts it best in saying, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Voter ID laws will take effect immediately given the Voting Rights Act decision of the Supreme Court. It is common knowledge that these laws are just sneaky ways to keep minorities from voting. Voter ID laws also disproportionally effect poor people. These types of laws are glaring reasons why the Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965 and why congress has renewed the law on a number of occasions. Th law was extended for 25 years in 2006. The Supreme Court majority didn’t find strong constitutional ground to argue its opinion. Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. relied on a post-racial myth and ignored history. Yet again, I will say that this decision is a disgrace.
The second incident that left with me with a poor taste in my mouth was the fact that four justices voted to uphold DOMA. What was most disgusting about this were the number of reasons Scalia and the three other justices dissented to the majority ruling. The dissent opinion stated that the federal government has the right to enforce traditional morals and sexual norms. That was the only real argument that he and the other justices presented. They expressed their “moral” disapproval of homosexuality and gay marriage. They believe that this ruling will hurt traditional marriage and lead to the decay of society. Scalia thinks that gay civil rights are just a fad, being pushed on the American people by a gay liberal mob.
The events of this week have left me less encouraged by the Supreme Court. A positive decision against DOMA was not enough to erase the actions of justices in gutting the Voting Rights Act and the justices who dissented in the case of DOMA. These unelected judges have massive influence on life in America. The ideology of this court will not change until on of justices resigns or dies. It is up to the president in subsequent years to appoint open minded, progressive justices in lower courts. That is the best hope that our nation has in ensuring equality for all of its citizens.