Farewell, DOMA

Equal treatment under the law

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has been struck down by the United States Supreme Court. Same-sex marriages conferred by the individual states can no longer be denied or not recognised by the federal government.

From the majority opinion, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy:

The differentiation [between heterosexual and homosexual couples] demeans the [homosexual] couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, see Lawrence, 539 U. S. 558, and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.

No longer will your legal married status fade and strengthen like intermittent cellphone service when you travel from one state to another.

Take the time to hug a Fox News viewer today. After the brief thrill experienced holing the Voting Rights Act beneath the waterline yesterday, today they have had to suffer the end of federal discrimination against same-sex married couples, and the onward march of immigration reform. It’s a tough day to be an intolerant, theocratical reactionary.

And, for all of its flaws and slowly turning wheel of justice, what a great thing is the United States Constitution, and a Supreme Court willing to overturn populist, discriminatory laws in favour of the universal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The complete ruling in the case of United States v. Windsor can be read here.

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Who Needs The Voting Rights Act, Anyway?

On a day that ushered in what is seen by many as one of the biggest setbacks for the civil rights movement in many years, with the Supreme Court decision to strike down key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, we can at least take some small solace in the principled and well-argued dissent, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and read by her from the bench.

Yes, it was exactly the usual suspects that you would expect to vote down key VRA provisions.
Yes, it was exactly the usual suspects that you would expect to vote down key VRA provisions.

First, an overview of the day’s events and the court ruling, courtesy of The Guardian:

The US supreme court struck down 48-year-old protections for minority voters in states with a history of racial discrimination on Tuesday, in a decision lamented by campaigners who argued that it gutted the most important civil rights law ever passed by Congress.

The conservative-dominated court argued the act had largely served its purpose in encouraging equal access to the ballot box and said it was unconstitutional to continue singling out southern states for extra scrutiny without new legislation to determine signs of ongoing discrimination.

For nearly 50 years, the law forced certain, mostly southern states to seek permission from federal authorities in Washington for any changes to electoral rules, such as introducing literacy tests to reduce voter registration among minority groups.

However, chief justice John Roberts ruled on Tuesday that although there were some signs of continued racial discrimination, it was no longer sufficient to justify legal discrimination against the southern states caught up by the rules.

This has been a long-cherished goal for many conservatives, and we are already seeing some states (the usual suspects) moving almost immediately to implement new laws that had previously been stymied by section 5 of the Act.

As a general and broad supporter of localism, limited government and states rights, I am naturally sceptical about laws and provisions that make local laws subject to review, alteration or invalidation by an external authority. However, in the case of the Voting Rights Act, specifically the part that makes local authorities with a history of voter discrimination seek approval for changes to voting laws, I believe that the “lesser of two evils” doctrine clearly takes effect. So egregious were the measures used in an attempt to suppress the black and minority vote in many areas, and so important is the ability for all citizens to be able to participate in the democratic process, that a small infringement on local democracy in terms of oversight of local voting laws seems preferable to the larger threat to democracy of risking the exclusion of those same minorities once again.

Of course, the conservative activism which has become an increasingly prevalent hallmark of the Roberts court is unable to see nuance or shades of grey, dealing – as do most ideologues – purely in black and white.

Unfortunately, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg notes in her dissent, numerous instances of blatant attempts to suppress the vote persist to this very day, and are by no means a distant relic of the Jim Crow era. MotherJones summarises some of the more recent examples in a “hall of shame” from Ginsburg’s dissent:

  • “Following the 2000 Census, the City of Albany, Georgia, proposed a redistricting plan that DOJ found to be ‘designed with the purpose to limit and retrogress the increased black voting strength…in the city as a whole.'”
  • “In 2001, the mayor and all-white five-member Board of Aldermen of Kilmichael, Mississippi, abruptly canceled the town’s election after ‘an unprecedented number’ of AfricanAmerican candidates announced they were running for office. DOJ required an election, and the town elected its first black mayor and three black aldermen.”
  • “In 1993, the City of Millen, Georgia, proposed to delay the election in a majority-black district by two years, leaving that district without representation on the city council while the neighboring majority white district would have three representatives…DOJ blocked the proposal. The county then sought to move a polling place from a predominantly black neighborhood in the city to an inaccessible location in a predominantly white neighborhood outside city limits.”
  • “In 2004, Waller County, Texas, threatened to prosecute two black students after they announced their intention to run for office. The county then attempted to reduce the avail ability of early voting in that election at polling places near a historically black university.”

It rather beggars belief that Chief Justice John Roberts and his fellow justices in the majority opinion can look at a political landscape still full of examples such as those shown here, and conclude that the problem is anywhere close to being solved. Or, as Ginsburg puts it:

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.

Quite.

The full dissenting opinion can be read here.

The Aftermath Of The ObamaCare Ruling

Supreme Court - Gay Marriage - 2

After reading and trying to digest a representative slice of the masses of coverage of the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the majority of President Obama’s healthcare law, I think that this article from Slate.com perhaps does the best job of defining the winners and losers, and explaining the potential political consequences of the decision.

Their overall view – that while the decision vindicates Obama’s signature policy achievement to date and affirms that all of the spent debating and passing the law was perhaps not wasted after all, it is quite probably the Republicans who will come away from this episode more energised and motivated as we head into election season:

If the law had been struck down in whole or in large parts, it would have endorsed Mitt Romney’s claim that President Obama committed a double sin: He wasted the precious start of his presidency on a wrong-headed scheme while ignoring a weak economy. But what now? Just because the Supreme Court upheld the law doesn’t mean the legislation is popular. The president avoided a big defeat, but Mitt Romney’s conservative base is energized. The net result is that it was a good day politically for the president, but it’s a small net.

The article shows that Obama, having taken a lot of fire from his political enemies over the law, was keen to claim the victory for himself, and I did note that the unfortunate Obama tendency to take personal credit where it should be shared (with others in his administration, and with those in congress who did a lot of the legwork) and his overuse of the word “I” has come creeping back a little:

The president echoed some of that sentiment Thursday after the ruling. It should be pretty clear by now that I didn’t do this because it was good politics,” he said in the East Room of the White House, where he had signed the legislation two years earlier. “I did it because I believed it was good for the country. I did it because I believed it was good for the American people.” The president mentioned politics 10 times in the short speech, always putting himself at arm’s length from that dirty business.

Other outlets, including Politico, make the point that Obama will be keen to move on from this victory, trying to portray the Republicans as a backward-looking party interested only in relitigating past battles rather than proposing future solutions or improvements to the existing law:

Later, several of Obama’s top White House advisers, speaking on condition that they not be quoted directly, told reporters Thursday’s decision doesn’t portend a strategic shift in which Obama begins to make the nitty-gritty of health care reform a centerpiece of his campaign.

And they seemed almost giddy at the prospect of congressional Republicans, incensed by the high court’s ruling, pursuing repeal efforts or other attacks on the law over the next weeks and months.

Time will tell if the Republicans do decide to adopt this stance, and whether or not it brings them success.

And finally, of course, some of those on the extreme right were so upset that they started advocating armed rebellion against the US government. From Michigan Capitol Confidential:

A Lansing-based civil rights attorney who has held positions with the Michigan Republican Party and Department of Corrections, questioned in a widely distributed email today whether armed rebellion was justified over the Supreme Court ruling upholding Obamacare.

Matthew Davis sent the email moments after the Supreme Court ruling to numerous new media outlets and limited government activists with the headline: “Is Armed Rebellion Now Justified?”

He stressed that he wasn’t calling for armed rebellion but added his own personal note to the email, saying, “… here’s my response. And yes, I mean it.”

Getting worked up and convincing himself that the Supreme Court’s ruling all but sounds the death knell for American freedom and democracy, former GOP operative Matthew Davis wrote:

“If government can mandate that I pay for something I don’t want, then what is beyond its power?” he wrote. “If the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday paves the way for unprecedented intrusion into personal decisions, than has the Republic all but ceased to exist? If so, then is armed rebellion today justified? God willing, this oppression will be lifted and America free again before the first shot is fired.”

In the meantime, while President Obama and Mitt Romney try to work out how best to take advantage of the ruling for their election campaigns, and while Matthew Davis from Ohio dusts off his replica revolutionary war uniform and loads his musket, the American people can look forward to the remaining provisions in the Affordable Care Act slowly coming into effect. Or being enslaved by a tyrannical, overbearing federal government.

Y’know, which ever way you choose to look at it.

Supreme Court - Gay Marriage

Sarah Palin Is Unhappy

Suffer and roar, Sarah Palin:

Oh yes, freedom was snuffed out in America at precisely 10.08AM ET, when the US Supreme Court released their ruling in favour of ObamaCare. No more freedom anymore, only slavery and socialism. Right.

Actually, no. Agree with ObamaCare or not, nothing has really died in America today apart from the things that Sarah Palin has been busy killing since she first rose to prominence – no more nuance or context, just black & white, right & wrong, hysterical overreaction, mean-spiritedness and all of the other heartwarming traits that we can reliably expect from the former governor of Alaska and Vice-Presidential candidate.

Sarah “Death Panel” Palin’s opposition was almost reason enough on its own to support the Affordable Care Act.

Suffer and roar.

ObamaCare Survives The Supreme Court

Breaking News – the United States supreme court has upheld the contested parts of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), ruling it constitutional, in a blow to Republicans who had tried to characterise the bill as a grossly unconstitutional overreach of government power.

I haven’t had a chance yet to see the ruling, but it is hard to see this as anything other than a huge victory for the Obama administration in this election year, given the fact that the health care law is widely viewed as his signature domestic achievement and the fact that so many commentators – including many of those on the left – had predicted that large parts of the bill would be struck down.

My full reaction and thoughts on this developing story will follow in due course.