Politics Magazine

Justices Partially Redeem Themselves

Posted on the 27 June 2013 by Jobsanger
Justices Partially Redeem Themselves A couple of days ago, the Supreme Court took a step backwards in ensuring all Americans have equal rights when they gutted the Voting Rights Act -- a move that will allow racists and crooked politicians to deny or restrict the voting rights of minorities (and others they think will vote against them). It was a sad day for democracy in America.
But on Wednesday, that same Supreme Court partially redeemed themselves, and took a couple of steps forward on the equal rights front. The court released their decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and on California's Proposition 8.
Proposition 8 was the law that banned same-sex marriages in that state. An appeals court had struck down the law, saying it had denied same-sex couples equal rights. That decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by some individuals who wanted the law re-instituted. The court dodged the issue of whether Prop 8 was constitutional or not, and simply upheld the appeals court decision -- saying those who had appealed the decision did not have the legal standing to do so.
It was a 5-4 decision -- with Justices Roberts, Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan voted in the majority (a strange mix of conservatives and liberals). Justices voting in the minority were Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor. The decision (or perhaps more appropriately, the non-decision) does mean that same-sex marriages can now resume in California.
The Supreme Court also struck down DOMA -- the federal law that prevented the federal government from extending equal protection and rights to same-sex married couples as to opposite-sex married couples. The majority said DOMA denied equal protection by violating the due process clause of the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution. This means the federal government must now give same-sex married couples the same rights and privileges they grant to heterosexual married couples (on taxation, health care, pensions, etc.). Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy said:
Although Congress has great authority to design laws to fit its own conception of sound national policy, it cannot deny the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. . .
For same-sex couples who wished to be married, the state (of New York) acted to give their lawful conduct a lawful status. This status is a far-reaching legal acknowledgment of the intimate relationship between two people, a relationship deemed by the state worthy of dignity in the community equal with all other marriages. DOMA seeks to injure the very class New York seeks to protect.
This was also a 5-4 decision. Those justices voting in the majority were Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. The minority justices were Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Alito.
The court could have decided that banning same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, but they stopped short of doing that. Their decision is only applicable in states where same-sex marriage is legal. While this is still a major victory for equal rights, it is only half the victory that it could have been. It means the battle must still be fought on a state-by-state basis -- and the fight for equal rights is still far from over.
But both decisions are victories -- and should be celebrated as such. After all, the court (as they demonstrated with the Voting Rights Act) could have made a much worse decision.

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