26 June 2013

Are they really RIGHTS if they can be taken away?

I haven't done a lot of writing: it's been a pretty busy year. My team is big. My classes are work. Making kids better writers is like making sausage: it's not pretty, it's slow and nobody really wants or needs to see it done. And, I got married, to the most wonderful, caring, and honestly, slightly insane woman in the world (her "insanity" is tied entirely to her decision to marry me). So as much as I'd like to write, it's pretty far down on the totem pole. But then, every once in awhile, something comes up that makes me want to get back on the mic: Civil Rights. 

The premise of the country is that everyone is equal. Well, that all men are created equal. Or, that all white men are created equal. Or is it that all white, land-owning men are created equal? We can see that, although the country believes itself to be founded on equality and justice, it seems to be not particularly inclined to protect either (the true merit of The State is how it reacts when equality and justice come into conflict, but that's for another day and another post). In the last 48 hours, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has ruled on two major civil rights decisions: Fisher v. University of Texas, a decision on Affirmative Action.  and Shelby County v. Holder, a decision regarding the implementation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, considered by many as the legislative  Crown Jewel of the Civil Rights Movement. In both cases, The Court decided to take the path of least resistance, which will lead to an inevitable rollback of the rights protected in both cases, pushing back progress in the area decades in 20 pages or less. 

Fisher v. University of Texas. SCOTUS sends the case back to the lower courts. Says in order for them to view the case, the lower courts need to determine if race needs to be a factor in admissions process. UT has a Top Ten Percent admissions process, which guarantees the top 10% of students in any Texas HS are automatically admitted, and the rest of the spots utilize race as a factor in admissions. The Court did NOT vacate the use of diversity as a compelling interest, which is at the heart of Affirmative Action (note: Scalia and Thomas indicate that if it were asked, they WOULD have voted to vacate Affirmative Action- indicating that the court didn't vacate because they weren't ASKED to- not a confidence builder for the Michigan AA case in the pipes for 2014). However, by kicking this back to the lower court, they are allowing the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals revisit the case. Not exactly the bastion of progress.

Shelby County v. Holder. The Court gives the Legislative Branch The Finger. The US has a history of not allowing full access to the polls. Much of this history has been racially driven. The VRA of 1965 was passed to give teeth to 15th Amendment, which gives all the right to vote regardless of race. Section 4 of the VRA sets a map of of places that have had a history of voting shadiness, and mandates these locales have to go through additional steps to make changes to voting procedures. These changes must go through a "pre-clearance" which is Section 5 of the VRA. The fear was that the pre-clearance would be removed, essentially removing any teeth from the Act. Instead, in an astute political move, they did not touch Section 5, which requires that violators go through a pre-clearance, but instead made the MAP unconstitutional, kicking it back to The Legislature to figure out a new way to figure out who pre-clearance should be applied to.  Pre-clearance WORKS. This is without question- numbers in these areas are higher and even the opponents of the idea say it works. But without THE MAP, then pre-clearance is impossible. It's particularly frustrating- to provide an analogy. There is a sickness- voter denial. Pre-clearance is the medicine. It WORKS. The map is the distribution method. It's not as effective as it could be, but IT'S SOLVING THE PROBLEM. In no world is it logical to stop medicating because your distribution method (which works) isn't as good as you'd like it to be. This also leaves a MAJOR issue in the hands of the US Congress: a group that can't pass a Farm Bill, an Immigration Bill and took 3 months to pass a policy that increased penalties on guys who abuse women (Violence Against Women Act). This was a MAJOR task in the 60's, when race was inescapable, as opposed to now- guaranteeing inaction more than an inept Congress does.

I feel sick. And my fear is that when i write tomorrow, I'll be writing about how the culmination of these decisions makes this look like America 50 years ago...


  1. The conspiracy theorist in me is already wondering if today's DOMA ruling was just to wash the bitter taste of the VRA neutering from the collective mouths of progressives. I get people need to celebrate DOMA being undone, but we also need time to react to VRA.

    I'm not saying Roberts is an evil genius. But, I'm not not saying it, either.

    Also, glad to see you writing again.

  2. Well said Doug and Ravi. There has been very little processing of what is happening to VRA.