We tend to forget how much the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court have on the lives of millions of Americans until they remind us all and this is going to be one such time.
This week the Court will hand down decisions on several cases of vital importance to the Black and gay community and depending on how they come down the rulings are likely to cause celebration in one community, consternation in the other and further resentment between the two groups.
Within days, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a series of decisions that could transform three fundamental social institutions: marriage, education and voting.
The extraordinary run of blockbuster rulings due in the space of a single week will also reshape the meaning of legal equality and help define for decades to come one of the Constitution’s grandest commands: “the equal protection of the laws.”
If those words require only equal treatment from the government, the rulings are likely to be a mixed bag that will delight and disappoint liberals and conservatives in equal measure. Under that approach, same-sex couples who want to marry would be better off at the end of the term, while blacks and Hispanics could find it harder to get into college and to vote.
But a tension runs through the cases, one based on different conceptions of equality. Some justices are committed to formal equality. Others say the Constitution requires a more dynamic kind of equality, one that takes account of the weight of history and of modern disparities.
The four major cases yet to be decided concern same-sex marriage, affirmative action in higher education and the fate of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which places special burdens on states with a history of racial discrimination.
However the majority of the Court rules will delight conservatives and infuriate liberals or delight liberals and infuriate conservatives. There may be a little something for everyone this week.
You should definitely expect if the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8 are kicked to the curb (yay) but affirmative action is further weakened and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is gutted, in the aftermath there will be a furious firestorm of stories and commentaries playing up the “gays vs. Blacks” schism and how one group’s interests are being advanced while the other is being rolled back.
That is simplistic as well as flat-out wrong. Marriage is not civil rights is not education. Yet while the parts do not equal a whole, the perception that the Court favors one side’s interests over another will inevitably come up no matter how they rules. Between the antipathy of the conservative wing of John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Anthony Scalia and Clarence Thomas and swing vote Anthony Kennedy‘s indifference to civil rights it is almost a foregone conclusion the Court is going to serve up a big ol’ crap sandwich for the supporters of affirmative action and voting rights.
It isn’t that there will be any connection between the separate issues of marriage equality and protecting voting rights. There isn’t and the Supremes don’t do “one for you and one for me. ” The Blame Game will fall on the collective heads of the gay community because invariably some commentators will designate them as “winners” in DOMA and Prop. 8 are overturned and Blacks will be deemed “losers” if the issues of greatest concern to them are severely curtailed. There already exists resentment from some Blacks over how the gay rights movement has appropriated the tactics and rhetoric of the civil rights movement for their own (and why not? It’s been proven effective and Gandhi never patented it to stop Martin Luther King for giving them an Americanized makeover).
Trust me when I say there will always be those who desire to keep tensions high between the Black and gay communities for their own reasons. Reasons that include homophobia or racism.
I expect this week is going to be like the old R’n’B song: “Joy and Pain.”
The news channels will serve up team of their legal “experts” to identify the various winners and losers. That’s fine if you want that sort of snap ESPN style analysis, but I don’t get much from watching Jeffery Toobin or Alan Dershowitz blathering about what the Justices really meant. You don’t have to be an attorney or a pompous talking head to understand what is going on with the Supremes. The SCOTUS Blog not only provides live reporting of the Court’s rulings, it does so in (mostly) plain English
For a layman who has always been fascinated by the workings of the Supreme Court, I appreciate that. The expected screams of joy from one side and groans of anguish from the other will need no such translation.
- Supreme Court decision day: Live updates, gay marriage ruling possible (troyrecord.com)
- SCOTUS’ Summer 2012 “Flood Week” Decisions… (samuelcummings.org)
- Supreme Court to Issue Rulings on Affirmative Action, Same-sex Marriage, and Voting Rights Before Month’s End (blackchristiannews.com)
- Prop. 8 /DOMA Supreme Court Watch: No Decision Today; Monday is Next Possibility (blogs.kqed.org)