By Rob Burgess
— Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued four of the most consequential rulings in years as a final capper to its current term. If nothing else, it was a sound reminder of the power nine human beings have over everyone else who lives here, for good or ill. Here’s a rundown of the decisions:
Fisher v. University of Texas
This case was more about what didn’t happen: Affirmative action is not dead. Good thing, too. Moving on …
United States v. Windsor
The Defense of Marriage Act was an indefensible blunder on the part of President William Jefferson Clinton. Here he is being interviewed by The Advocate in late June 1996, just before he signed the codified discrimination into law. “I remain opposed to same-sex marriage,” he said. “I believe marriage is an institution for the union of a man and a woman. This has been my long-standing position, and it is not being reviewed or reconsidered.” Jerry Falwell couldn’t have said it better himself, I’m sure. Clinton really let everyone down by playing along with this Bob Barr-penned fiasco in the first place. (To be fair, he has since shifted his stance, penning an op-ed for the Washington Post earlier this year entitled, “It’s time to overturn DOMA.”) By a 5-4 decision, that mistake has finally been amended. In the now 13 states where gay marriage is legal, that union now means something in a practical sense when it counts. Which brings us to …
Hollingsworth v. Perry
I was lucky enough to be an eligible voter in the state of California in 2008. This afforded me the distinct pleasure of voting against Proposition 8, which constitutionally banned same-sex marriage in the Golden State. I and my fellow 6,401,481 concurring registered voters finally had our voices heard five years later when the court ruled it unconstitutional. I was pretty sure the court would turn its back on Prop. 8, I just didn’t want to get my hopes up. I was heartened by the fact the state did not even show up in district court to defend the ballot initiative. However, I am saddened the court left the other 37 states in the nation awaiting a future court challenge to finally finish the job of legalizing gay marriage everywhere. It could have gone a lot worse, though. But, then, I reject the entire premise from the start: Two consenting, nonrelated adults shouldn’t have to answer to anyone, including me, about whom they love or why. It’s not something to be voted upon in the first place. (Are you listening, Gov. Mike Pence?) Speaking of voting …
Shelby County v. Holder
With this decision the court effectively ripped the vital organs out of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. I shuddered out loud when I read the following passage in Adam Liptak’s June 25 New York Times report. “The decision will have immediate practical consequences,” he wrote. “Texas announced shortly after the decision that a voter identification law that had been blocked would go into effect immediately, and that redistricting maps there would no longer need federal approval. Changes in voting procedures in the places that had been covered by the law, including ones concerning restrictions on early voting, will now be subject only to after-the-fact litigation.” If anyone is curious about what happened when people could still get away with it, head on over to the Civil Rights Movement Veterans’ page and take a stab at an Alabama, Louisiana or Mississippi’s historical literacy test. (The answers to these questions were often left intentionally vague so as to give discretion as to the “correct” answer to the questioner.) Chief Justice John Roberts and his four like-minded justices don’t seem to understand one of the main reasons conditions at the polls have improved compared to Jim Crow is the VRA itself, which this verdict demolishes. “Our country has changed,” Roberts wrote for the majority. “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” Sadly, Justice Roberts, history has a nasty way of repeating itself.
Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.