Diana Ross and the Supreme Court


America is coming out!* We’re into equality! At least, we’re equality curious.

Ding-dong, DOMA is dead! When the chips are down and we roll the dice well, we get justice. Of course, that justice relies on our curious judicial system, by which nothing is guaranteed. It’s like Paul Newman said in The Verdict, “You get a shot.” That’s what’s beautiful about America. As long as you’re not in Guantánamo or declared an enemy abroad, you get recourse to the law. It’s still a reality that the law is an overburdened institution highly dependent on the predilections of judges, the abilities (and the cost) of lawyers, and ultimately, eight firmly entrenched constitutional thinkers and one guy whose mood swings determine the fate of us all.

We’ve got to roll those dice for every gain, and sometimes we crap out. Overturning the one portion of the Voting Rights Act that matters was not a great move for the Supremes.

I get that it’s not “fair” to malign just certain states with the accusation of racism, so making Texas clear their voting acts with the attorney general while Florida and Ohio are free to set up hoops and hurdles isn’t “fair.” I’d like it if they’d balanced that unfairness with the unfairness of having huge swaths of the populace disenfranchised, but the Supreme Court is essentially a bunch of idealists.

What I don’t get is this idea that racism is over, that things have changed enough to cripple the Voting Rights Act. Yes, things have changed. States are using new and different means to keep minorities from voting. Still, the fact that they’re clearly trying to keep minorities from voting should be a warning flag! Hell, the fact that those states have got confederate flags should be a warning flag! Even if they’re “accidental racists,” they shouldn’t be allowed to “accidentally” screw minorities at the polls. Part of the Voting Rights Act allows any jurisdiction to get out from under the law if they keep a clean voters right record for ten years. That seems like a passable test to me. Why not just remind everyone to stop suppressing votes for ten years? These guys were trying to suppress votes last year. Remember?

Note that “these guys” aren’t just the South. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida—none of these voter-suppressing states fall under the purview of the Voting Rights Act. The five members of the Supreme Court who held sway on this want Congress to come up with a less geographic means of protecting people’s rights. That’s a worthy argument, if a bat-shit crazy proposition in what those of us outside the chamber call “real life.” Congress couldn’t pass a fart in a wind storm, let alone revamp major civil rights legislation. Right now the fate of the Republican party hinges on passing immigration reform, and all they’re getting done is alienating another generation of Latinos. How are they going to pass something that isn’t in their interest?

The only thing that’s going to change things is a landslide victory for one party or the other. Maybe Hillary can pull that off, but even that would be a dubious proposition. Yes, it’s exciting that yesterday Anthony Kennedy was in a good mood for gay rights, but remember that DOMA could have been ended by another individual back in 1996: Bill Clinton.

*While I’m tenuously linking this article to Diana Ross for the sake of some wordplay, I’d like to make a separate argument. That musical Dreamgirls seems to be making the argument that the more talented woman got sidelined because of her looks in a group very similar to the Supremes. There were tons of soulful belters fronting acts in the sixties, and none of them were Diana Ross. She is a goddess.


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