June 30, 2013
I always love the end of a Supreme Court term, especially when landmark cases are being decided. The 2013 term did not disappoint.
There were four cases (five, actually, but two tackled essentially the same subject) I found the most interesting. The court judged two of them essentially right, one might have been procedurally right but was disappointing nonetheless, and the fourth was grievously wrong.
The biggest decision was handed down Wednesday on the last day of the term. In two separate cases, the Supreme Court paved the way for normalizing same-sex marriages.
The decisions, while not sweeping as many had hoped, were nonetheless historic and, I dare say, correct. The court found the federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Bill Clinton, as being unconstitutional. It also found a lack of standing in a case challenging Californiaís Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. That finding means the lower court rulings stand, which found Proposition 8 unconstitutional, and paves the way for resumption of same-sex marriages in California.
These decisions are about more than same-sex marriage. They go to the very heart of our federal system. Marriage law is a matter for the states under our bifurcated system of government. The federal government should, without question, accept as fact when a state says two people are legally married. That means those couples should be subjected to the same federal rules and regulations governing married couples.
The other decision the court decided correctly was striking down part of the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday.
What the court did was rule that the states needed to be treated equally. The idea that some states have to be under federal oversight when it comes to elections based on voting data from 1972 should seem silly to every American. This is not 1972 and voting demographics have certainly changed.
In fact, when the VRA was passed in 1965, it was meant to last only five years. Congress has since extended it four times, the last being in 2006 for 25 years. Can anyone really say that we should be using data that will be 59 years old when the current extension expires in 2031?
Indeed, in the nine states under federal oversight, blacks vote at a higher rate than whites.
This does not mean that states can discriminate based on race. It simply means all states are treated equally under the law and if there are racial shenanigans going on, those harmed can seek redress through the courts as Americans in the other 41 states can do.
The third decision came down Monday when the court punted on affirmative action in higher education. The court essentially sent the case back to the lower court telling it to apply a different standard in its analysis.
Unfortunately, this had the effect of keeping race-based decisions alive when it comes to college admissions. At least for now.
Maybe the courtís decision to send it back for further review was correct from a procedural point of view. However, the idea of affirmative action is not. It is past time to put an end to any decisions by government officials being based on race. It is time for government to even stop asking people questions about race.
Government should be colorblind. Period. For this reason, the courtís decision was disappointing.
However, the big disappointment was the awful decision handed down June 3 that said government can take DNA from anyone suspected in a serious crime regardless of the stateís need for the DNA in investigating that crime. The state can then use the DNA and compare it to evidence in cold cases.
This decision was nothing less than an evisceration of the Fourth Amendmentís proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures and amounts to fishing expeditions against anyone suspected of a crime to try to pin other crimes on them. This is exactly the kind of egregious government behavior the Fourth Amendment was meant to protect against.
Results of the cases aside, it is great to see these issues of paramount public importance decided by men and women wearing black robes after lengthy and considered debate rather than by soldiers on a bloody battlefield.