Sunday, June 30, 2013

Have We Changed?

U.S. Supreme Court building
Well it's been an interesting week for Supreme Court news.

Many of those who believe you should be able to marry whomever you want cheered the decision undermining the Defense of Marriage Act and overturning California's Proposition 8, both of which opposed same-sex marriage.

Others also cheered the decision in which the justices refused to undo decades of Affirmative Action for minorities at the nation's major colleges and universities.

Both laudable in the extreme.

Of course it wasn't all good news.

President Lyndon Johnson and The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. after the signing of the Voting Rights Act
While the court helped the advance of civil rights in some quarters, it dealt a blow in others.

The decision overturning a portion of the landmark Voting Rights Act -- the portion which required nine states with a history of discrimination at the polls to get federal approval before making changes to their voting procedures -- was a step back.

(For those who may have missed it, I had a very interesting conversation with Bethel AME Pastor the Rev. Dr. Vernon Ross on this subject. Click here to read The Mercury article that resulted from that interview.)

But the door was left open on that decision as well.

The theory behind the law was not declared un-Constitutional, just the manner in which it was most recently re-authorized by Congress, in 2006.

When Congress acted that year, it used data from 1975 to justify the need for
Chief Justice John Roberts
continued federal oversight. Chief Justice John Roberts, in writing the majority opinion, in essence said "stop being so lazy congress. Do the work."

While "Congress" and "work" may indeed be the worst kind of antonyms and not much of a foundation for hope, Pennsylvania's senior senator is already pushing to do just that.

In reaction to the ruling, Sen. Bob Casey issued a letter to the Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging that the Senate immediately begin work on re-authorizing the portion of the Voting Rights Act the court struck down.
Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Casey

"There have been multiple reauthorizations of the VRA, most recently in 2006 with overwhelming bipartisan support, with the Senate voting 98-0 to reauthorize the Act," Casey wrote to Leahy.

In writing, Casey also took aim at Robert's rationale for his decision -- that "the nation has changed" since the law was first enacted in 1965:
While we have made significant progress as a nation, it is simply not the case that the protections of Sections 4 and 5 are no longer needed. In fact, since 2000, the Department of Justice has objected to proposed changes to state and local election laws 74 times, with ten objections taking place in 2012 alone.
We should not allow the successes of the VRA to be used to justify stripping the very provisions that allow for effective protection of the rights it guarantees. It is now the responsibility of Congress to pass legislation that will enable enforcement through Section 5 and continue to secure the right to vote to all of our citizens, regardless of race, national origin or language.
Already, states subject to the rule and which had attempted changes to state voting conditions the U.S. Justice Department had extreme doubts about, have announced their intention to move ahead; in the case of Texas, almost immediately.

Perhaps, that's just the kick in the pants our complacent nation needs.

Perhaps, the potential injustice of the changes Texas and South Carolina want to enact can be the key that unlocks Congressional grid-lock and displays the need for those protections to continue.

Consider that the Republican National Committee is already worried about the demographic changes that are coming, changes that will make former minorities the new majority.

They have tried to forestall those changes with exactly the kind of electoral tampering -- inherent in Pennsylvania's undecided voter ID law -- the Voting Rights Act was enacted to prevent; the kind of changes that minimize voices so long denied a voice proportional to their presence.

Some, like Jeb Bush, have recognized the Republicans have to deal with the reality on the ground instead of trying to create their own. 

Witness the passage of immigration reform in the Senate, a bill passed with the partial purpose of demonstrating to the coming Hispanic majority that Republicans are not united against them.

Can they really afford to make war on another minority; to, in essence, take back voting rights so dearly earned and enjoyed these last 50 years?

Is it possible that this decision could be a blessing in disguise; one that forces the nation to put Justice Roberts' belief that the country has changed to the ultimate test?

After all, if we truly have changed; if the need for that law was so universally obvious to 98 senators just seven years ago, is it not possible that Congress actually could act?

Could this be the basis of bi-partisan agreement?

That would indeed be evidence that the nation has changed; change we could believe in ....

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