Hocus Scotus: News from the Supremes

Supreme Court ruled that Section 4 of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. This is the formula used to determine which states and localities need preclearance before changing their voting laws.

Watch the video of Mrs. Hamer addressing the Democratic National Convention in 1964 on voting rights, before she was cut off by an “emergency press conference” from President Johnson’s White House aimed at getting her off national television.

By a 5-to-4 vote, the court invalidated the formula — adopted most recently in 2006 — used to determine which states had to get federal approval for changes in their voting laws. The law applied to sixteen jurisdictions (nine states plus parts of seven other states) and required any changes in voting laws or procedures in the covered jurisdictions to be approved in advance by the U.S. Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, D.C. A jurisdiction with a clean record for 10 years was permitted to be excused from the mandate. With this new ruling, citizens can bring their court case of voting irregularities only after the election is completed, rather than raising a flag about discriminatory laws in advance of an election.

Michael Waldman, Brennan Center for Justice president, said, “The Supreme Court’s decision is at odds with recent history. The Voting Rights Act was vital in 2012, not just 1965. For nearly five decades, it has been the nation’s most effective tool to eradicate racial discrimination in voting. And it is still critical today. Last year, Section 5 helped block laws making it harder to vote. There is a path forward. Section 5 stands. Congress now has the duty to upgrade this key protection and ensure our elections remain free, fair, and accessible for all Americans.”

Jon Greenbaum, Chief Counsel, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law commented, “The Supreme Court has effectively gutted one of the nation’s most important and effective civil rights laws. Minority voters in places with a record of discrimination are now at greater risk of being disenfranchised than they have been in decades. … Jurisdictions will be able to enact policies which prevent minorities from voting, and the only recourse these citizens will have will be expensive and time-consuming litigation.”

Listen to Mrs. Hamer’s full speech on voting rights to the Democratic National Convention.

Supreme Court rules “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) unconstitutional. This opens the door for federal benefits for same-sex couples. It does not confer same-sex couples marriage rights across the board. That’s still a state by state decision.

“In a 5-4 ruling, the court struck down a provision of the 17-year-old Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denies federal benefits — like Social Security benefits or the ability to file joint tax returns – to same-sex couples legally married.

The impact of the DOMA case, United States v. Windsor, is clear for the nation’s approximately 130,000 married same-sex couples. Section 3 of the law, the provision that was struck down, denies same-sex couples federal benefits. That provision impacts around 1,100 federal laws, including veterans’ benefits, family medical leave and tax laws.”

Amy Howe at SCOTUSBLOG says, “What this means, in plain terms, is that same-sex couples who are legally married will be entitled to equal treatment under federal law– with regard to, for example, income taxes and Social Security benefits.” Also that legally recognized same-sex couples will now be able to jointly file their tax returns and gain the benefits of joint filing.

I’m reading a really excellent book on all this called Time to Embrace: Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics by William Stacy Johnson.

Supreme Court rules that California’s Prop 8 appeal doesn’t have legal standing. The Prop 8 decision was that the citizen/sponsors of Prop 8 didn’t have the “appellate standing” to bring forward the case. This makes sense given that the California state gov’t wouldn’t defend the ballot initiative and the California court struck it down.

If you’ve never read the California court’s ruling on Prop 8 (or watched the reader’s theater video) I would HIGHLY recommend it. Brilliant insight into the fundamentals of U.S. constitutional democracy. (Read my earlier summaries here.)

But the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) ruling, I think, sheds more light on California’s bizarre ballot initiative process than it does on gay marriage. For the background on how a Progressive Era law got bought out by BigPR/paid petition circulators, I suggest reading about it here.

 

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