Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, ‘No, where are you really from?’, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’
We are fortunate to live in a democratic society. But without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups. For that reason, our Constitution places limits on what a majority of the people may do. This case implicates one such limit: the guarantee of equal protection of the laws.
Under our Constitution, majority rule is not without limit. Our system of government is predicated on an equilibrium between the notion that a majority of citizens may determine governmental policy through legislation enacted by their elected representatives, and the overriding principle that there are nonetheless some things the Constitution forbids even a majority of citizens to do. The political-process doctrine, grounded in the Fourteenth Amendment, is a central check on majority rule.
The Fourteenth Amendment instructs that all who act for the government may not “deny to any person … the equal protection of the laws.” We often think of equal protection as a guarantee that the government will apply the law in an equal fashion — that it will not intentionally discriminate against minority groups. But equal protection of the laws means more than that; it also secures the right of all citizens to participate meaningfully and equally in the process through which laws are created.
In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination. This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society.
– From her dissenting opinion in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. Decisions can be read in full here.
By Arturo R. García
About the only concrete statement Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said after the Supreme Court hampered her state’s attempt to further marginalize undocumented immigrants Monday was this matter isn’t settled yet.
By Arturo R. García
The fight for marriage equality isn’t over yet. But Tuesday brought with it a huge win for opponents of California’s Proposition 8, as a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law was unconstitutional, possibly sending the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Prop 8, which had banned same-sex marriages, was approved by California voters in 2008, overturning a California State Supreme Court ruling. In 2010, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled it was unconstitutional, a decision the panel upheld in a 2-1 vote. The panel also ruled Walker, now retired from the bench, did not have to vacate his decision for not revealing his own same-sex relationship at the time of his ruling. Walker’s decision to keep his ruling under a court seal was also upheld.
Despite the panel’s ruling, however, LGBT couples still cannot get married; the law will remain in place during a two-week period the law’s supporters have to determine whether they will appeal to a larger 9th Circuit panel, or go directly to the Supreme Court. Some legal experts have suggested the higher court might leave the case alone.
Felecia Young remembered the day she walked into the Forrest County Courthouse in Hattiesburg, Miss. with her 11-year-old son, 9-year-old daughter, and mother on August 17, 1998.
The streets were barricaded. Buildings and streets showed the faces of police officers who were on site in case of a riot. An Aryan organization had threatened to demonstrate. But Young was determined to bear witness.
She and her children found seats in the balcony of the humid, packed courthouse.
“We sat in the balcony area, way up high,” Young said. “I don’t think I’d ever seen that area open, but they had to open it because there were so many people coming that there wasn’t any where to sit downstairs.”
Young is a black woman, born and raised in Hattiesburg. She attended high school there and graduated from the local college, the University of Southern Mississippi.
After serving six years in the Air Force, during which she visited or lived in 13 countries and earned the rank of captain before her commitment was fulfilled, she returned home, where she and her husband decided to raise their family. It was there where she became familiar with the Ku Klux Klan and its acts of violence. And the charismatic leader of the Klan’s Mississippi White Knights, Sam Bowers, was perhaps the most hateful person of them all.
At the courthouse, Young felt anxious, anticipatory, and inquisitive at beginnings of Bowers’ trial – his fifth trial, in fact, for the murder of Vernon Dahmer Sr. 22 years earlier. She wanted to take in the moment. Most of all, she wanted her children to see Bowers and to remember people like him are real. They exist.
“I wanted (my children) to have that historical perspective,” Young said. “A lot of people have sacrificed their lives so that you could have a better life than they had had.”
By Guest Contributor Michael P. Jeffries
Just two weeks ago, the live audience at the Republican presidential candidate debate cheered in gleeful support of the death penalty. At the time, sensible Americans, secure in their own polite disapproval, bookmarked the incident as another harrowing YouTube amusement, and returned to normalcy the next day. The climate has changed, and there will be no such return to normalcy after Troy Davis’s death. We cannot make up for the blood spilled while the death penalty languished as mere speck on our political radar, but we can and will work to eradicate it.
Desperate for redemption in this dark hour, we have to believe that history will reveal the Davis execution as the spark that eventually incinerated the death penalty in the United States. I worry, though, that the worthy goal of eradicating capital punishment, even if achieved, will distort and erase the tormenting racial subtext of this incident. The very possibility of even characterizing the racial meaning baked into this case as “subtext,” speaks to the suppression of the truth about racism in the United States.