EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


July 7, 2013

Column:Supreme Court gave U.S. a summer thrill ride

What a month the last one was for Americans. We were told by the Supreme Court that key parts of the law to protect the voting rights of African-Americans was no longer viable, while at the same time the rights of gays were given new protections from federal interference. The same court also saved affirmative action from the trash heap.

Does the word “schizophrenia” apply here? Perhaps a better word would be “confusion,” because that’s what most of us feel. In none of the landmark cases was there a black-and-white decision (no pun intended), a hard-and-fast ruling that would resist further challenge.

In a 5-4 decision, the court negated the Voting Rights Act provision that said all or parts of 15 states with a history of racial discrimination -- mostly in the South -- required federal approval of any changes in how they run elections. But the court invited Congress to revise the landmark legislation, passed nearly 50 years ago in the maelstrom of the civil rights era, to meet any possible recurrence of repressive state measures aimed at minorities.

The ruling was immediately condemned by the Congressional Black Caucus and national civil rights groups. They cited pending state laws demanding voter identification and other measures as clear evidence of lingering racism against blacks and Hispanics in the affected states. They rightly surmised that, in the current political atmosphere, a congressional fix is highly unlikely.

As for gays’ civil rights, the court took a giant step forward in its decision upsetting the Defense of Marriage Act, which aimed to outlaw same-sex marriage. Then it let stand a lower court’s decision that had declared California’s Proposition 8 prohibition of gay nuptials unconstitutional, effectively overturning it. California Gov. Jerry Brown immediately announced his state would begin marrying gay couples.

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