Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Godfather III and the Supreme Court

I’ve tried to stay away from writing about politics, but I increasingly feel like Michael Corleone in Godfather III: “Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in.”

Wednesday was a great day of victory for LGBT citizens. Nay, for all citizens, at least those who cherish equality. The dual U.S. Supreme Court decisions invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act and California Proposition 8 that withheld the opportunity for same-sex marriage in that state extended the privileges and rights enjoyed by the heterosexual community.

The LGBT community had reason to cheer. Those who opposed their equality did so mainly on a religious premise, that God did not sanction gay unions, according to their reading of the Bible. But the law is supposed to be blind toward religion. In deciding the two cases, a majority of justices rightly saw the issues in legal, not religious, terms.

But in the long run, the Roberts Court proved itself far more reactionary than progressive. Its decision Tuesday to strike down a portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was more far-reaching than its Wednesday rulings. It will condemn our country to years if not decades of regressive, repressive, racist legislators and the poison they will infuse into local, state and national legislation. 

Democrats as well as Republicans practice gerrymandering to secure majorities in legislatures. Section 4 of the Act protected minorities from many of the excesses sought, mostly by Republicans. By declaring that section unconstitutional, the Court opened the door to skullduggery, which began almost immediately. Texas said it would implement a previously stalled voter identification law and would alter districts without Federal review. The latter will have the immediate effect of putting Wendy Davis, the Texas state senator who filibustered against a repressive abortion bill Tuesday night, into a district with fewer Democratic voters, an action Federal review did not allow a few years ago. The voter ID law, opponents believe, will dampen turnout by minorities who generally vote Democratic.

To be sure, new laws and redistricting can be challenged in court, but the procedure is costly and time-consuming. The Court invited Congress to amend Section 4 by updating the voting data on which it was passed, on the surface an acceptable remedy. Except when one considers the inability of recent Congresses to reach consensus and the fact that the ruling will send to the House more representatives with extreme views unwilling to compromise. 

It’s common for those who disagree with the reactionary rulings by the Court to blame Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito and Thomas (Kennedy, too, when he hangs around the evil foursome). But let’s not blame them. Let’s put the blame where it truly belongs—on the American people for voting into office Reagan, Bush 1 and Bush 2. Reagan appointed Scalia and Kennedy, Bush 1 appointed Thomas, Bush 2 appointed Roberts and Alito. 

Anyone who doesn’t realize that the choice of a president sets in motion the opportunity to impact our way of life for decades to come doesn’t comprehend the role the Supreme Court plays in our society. Tuesday and Wednesday’s rulings have, to paraphrase Michael Corleone, pulled us back into reality.