Once again the liberals on the Supreme Court voted for fairness and protected voting rights. In a split decision, the court rejected the request by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) to grant a stay of the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit that the law passed by the North Carolina Legislature making it more difficult to vote was unconstitutional. This is great for those who want to vote this year in North Carolina but the Supreme Court could eventually decide the merits of the case.
Last Friday, it refused to let Michigan enforce a ban on casting straight-ticket ballots in the coming election after lower courts found the prohibition was likely to discriminate against African Americans resulting in long lines at the polls.
That makes it crucial, if you believe each citizen has an unimpeded right to vote, we have a Democrat in the White House nominating the next justices. The decision to deny the N.C. stay split the court four-to-four. With only eight justices since the death of Antonin Scalia, a split decision maintains the decision of the lower courts. In this case, the four conservative justices — Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy — would have granted the stay and allowed discriminatory voting practices to be the law for this November’s election.
Throughout history it is clear the nine men and women on the court often have a more lasting impact on our lives than any one president or Congress. The next president will likely have the opportunity to nominate at least three justices. In addition to the current vacancy, due to Scalia’s passing, two justices (Kennedy and Ginsburg) are over 80 and Breyer is 78.
While many believe this election will turn on the issues of the economy, immigration and who is less trusted by the voters, it’s important voters understand which issues impacting their lives could end up being decided by the Supreme Court. These include gun control and the scope of the Second Amendment; efforts to overturn Citizens United; the Affordable Care Act and how it relates to women’s health issues and the separation of church and state; voting rights; and the continuing fight over the rights of LGBT Americans among other issues impacting how we live.
The deep divisions in our country are being brought into the open by the campaign of Donald Trump. That makes it realistic to believe state legislatures will continue to pass divisive legislation on all these issues. Trump has made it acceptable to publicly display racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia. While it is becoming clear these feelings were just under the surface we had reached the stage where it was unacceptable to speak them out loud. Now that has changed. During an Indiana high school basketball game we saw the result that Mayra Cuevas wrote about: “During the course of that game, a group of Andrean students produced signs and images of presidential candidate Donald Trump and began to chant ‘Build that wall,’ at the Bishop Noll team and fans, who are heavily Hispanic.”
The result of this open hate speech condoned in many communities is that right-wing legislators will be spurred to introduce and potentially pass legislation taking away voting rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and allowing discrimination of all kinds. Lawsuits over any successful legislative initiatives will make their way through the judicial system and eventually end up at the door of the Supreme Court. Then these all-powerful nine men and women will decide what rights Americans have under our Constitution. Presidents, members of Congress, governors and state legislators come and go; Supreme Court Justices have lifetime appointments.
The impact of the court is clear in many landmark decisions. Brown v. Board of Education making segregated school systems illegal; Loving v. Virginia legalizing interracial marriage; Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion; Gideon v. Wainwright guaranteeing the right to counsel; District of Columbia v. Heller determining the Second Amendment protects the individual’s right to bear arms; and Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing gay marriage all changed society. The court even decided the 2000 presidential election in Bush v. Gore.
Americans must understand that how they vote will determine whether liberals or conservatives control the court impacting how we live our lives for decades to come. The make-up of the Supreme Court over the next 30 years might well be the most lasting legacy of this presidential election.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.