A Constitutional Rollercoaster

I had another post written for today, but there’s much too much going on! This week has been a rollercoaster of disappointment, despair, joy and exaltation, and it’s only Wednesday.

On Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court issued an awful ruling that struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act. As compiled by Slacktivist, a flurry of Republican-controlled state legislatures immediately began efforts to pass restrictive voter-ID laws and redraw electoral maps to dilute minority votes – conclusively putting the lie to the claims of the five conservative justices who said that the VRA’s protections were no longer needed.

Then, on Tuesday night, the Texas state legislature was poised to pass a set of savage restrictions on abortion (the ones I discussed on Monday), designed to put most of the state’s family planning clinics out of business… until a dramatic filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis, who stayed on her feet talking, without a break, for nearly 13 hours to run out the clock on the last day of a special legislative session.

Late in the night, when victory was within reach, a Republican legislator objected that some of Davis’ comments about sonograms were irrelevant to an abortion bill (!!), and Texas’ Republican lieutenant governor ruled against her, forcing her to yield the floor. In spite of angry protests from spectators, the legislature voted in favor of the abortion ban, but not until just after midnight – when the legislative session legally expired. Despite a shocking attempt to retroactively alter the timestamps, the Republicans were ultimately forced to admit that the vote was invalid and the bill was dead.

And then, this morning, the Supreme Court handed down its long-awaited decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8. In true two-steps-forward-one-step-back fashion, it gave us two huge and historic wins for equality.

The first ruling struck down Section 3 of DOMA, which barred the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages. This means that same-sex couples who are legally married in a state that permits them will now have access to all the same federal rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples: tax benefits, the right to citizenship, and many more. The second ruling effectively struck down California’s Prop 8, upholding a lower court’s decision on technical grounds, which means that Prop 8 is invalidated and same-sex weddings will resume in California.

I’m still processing all this, and will probably have more to say about it in follow-up posts. In some ways, we’ve made immense progress toward equality this week; in others, we’re seemingly farther than ever. But I’m optimistic: even though we’ve seen the vast length of the path left to travel, we’ve also seen how quickly those great distances can be surmounted, when the right moment arrives. We took one big step today, but we have many more left, so let’s start planning the next one.

Image credit: Olga Besnard / Shutterstock.com

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • L.Long

    You can count on the RePukeians pushing full on to get the anti-abortion (or as the RePukeians refer to it-’The phucking Cunts deserve it Bill’) at the very next opportunity. HOW!!! can any REAL woman be a RePukeian??? Now with the Democrats slowly becoming Demoncrats, I’m being forced to vote GREEN this next cycle. I’m torn as this will not get rid of Repukeians but then as the Europeans say, ‘American liberals?? What liberals??’ To which I also agree as far as I can tell we have the Demoncrat conservatives and the RePukeian Theocracy.

  • Figs

    I have a feeling that Texas will still manage to pass the odious law they were trying to pass earlier when they were thwarted by Senator Davis. And you know what? That’s probably what should happen. Probably not that that law should get passed, or that it’s a good thing, but that the elected representatives ought to be able to enact their agenda (part of the problem with the federal government is that it’s so convoluted that the elected government is frequently unable to enact their agenda, and is punished for it). People should know that this is what their representatives want to do/have done, and those representatives should be held accountable for it. I applaud Senator Davis for her efforts in bringing national attention to these shady ploys on the part of her state.

    Again, I want to make clear: the law being proposed there is odious and disastrous to women in Texas. The better solution here would be for Texans to realize what piles of garbage they’ve elected to their legislature and governorship and vote them out in favor of people who have some respect for them.

  • GCT

    It would be nice if people voted out the retrograde troglodytes…but what about the real women who end up suffering in the meantime? It’s not good enough to wait for a better solution when people are already suffering.

  • Figs

    Yeah, I know. It’s not that I don’t have a problem with that. I very much do. But I can’t help but see it in the same context as I see general governing questions. if Texas has elected enough people who believe this noxious crap that they can pass it, then to some extent, that’s what Texas has signaled it “wanted”.

    Now, again, I want to make clear that I’m drawing a (maybe stretched) comparison with the federal government. If a particular party has a majority, then that majority ought to be able to enact its agenda and be held accountable for it. My fervent hope, in this case, if the law passes (as it appears it will), a court case will be raised almost immediately, and the court will enjoin the law from taking effect until the resolution of the challenge.

  • GCT

    if Texas has elected enough people who believe this noxious crap that they can pass it, then to some extent, that’s what Texas has signaled it “wanted”.

    I see what you’re saying, but the role of government isn’t just to enact majority (mob) rule, but to protect the rights of the minority. In this context, women certainly constitute a minority, and their rights are in question here. If it were simply an aesthetic question or something that didn’t impinge on rights, I’d be right there with you.

  • TFM

    The second ruling effectively struck down California’s Prop 8, upholding a lower court’s decision on technical grounds, which means that Prop 8 is invalidated and same-sex weddings will resume in California.

    Yes and no. IANAL, but as I understand it, you’ve got it right except for the “struck down” part, which implies a ruling of the merits that simply did not happen. If CA’s lower court had upheld Prop 8, the SCOTUS decision could be exactly the same but Prop 8 would have remained law, because that “techinicality” meant they neither affirmed nor overturned the decision below. It’s invalidated, but not by SCOTUS.

    The end result on the Prop 8 ruling is good (IMO), but SCOTUS basically used that “tecnicality” to avoid deciding, just like they did in Newdow’s “Pledge of Allegiance” case, which had the consequence that “under God” could stay in the pledge. Those happy with that outcome were quick to characterize that decision as SCOTUS ruling that the pledge did not violate the Establishment clause, even though all they really did was say that since the plaintiff lacked standing, they declined to rule on the merits. Same thing happened here. Since the merits weren’t reached, another state could legalized gay marriage, have a state court invalidate it, and it would stay invalidated if no one can get standing to reinstate it, because SCOTUS didn’t say that states flat-out can’t prohibit gay marriage. It’s a victory for gay marriage in CA because of how the lower court already ruled, but doesn’t guarantee other states the same result. At least, that’s my layman’s interpretation.

  • Figs

    Yeah, and that’s why I’m treading carefully and more than a little uncomfortable with the implications of what I’m saying. I think the law flatly contradicts protections offered to citizens, and contradicts the standing law of the land through Roe. But I have a strong feeling that people ought to have some way to understand what they have bought with their votes. Senator Davis has gone a long way toward making people aware of that, to be sure. My hope would be that the public pressure shames them into stopping. My fear is that it won’t (fear for the women affected, of course).

  • HA2
  • J-D

    It’s a bad idea to have a system that allows filibustering, and given a straight choice between a system with filibusters and one without, the one without should be preferred. But that doesn’t mean it’s always wrong to filibuster in a system that does allow that. Given the choice to filibuster or not to, the possible effects on the future operation of the system are a factor to be taken into consideration, but they don’t automatically override all other considerations. In this particular instance, filibustering was clearly the right choice.

  • mountaintiger

    I think you are not quite right on standing. The issue of standing in the Prop 8 case was whether the groups that promoted the initiative could replace the state as the defendant; the plaintiff’s standing was never in question. Had the district court ruling gone the other way, the plaintiff would have had clear standing to appeal (in this case, if the state had declined to show up in the appeals court, my understanding is that the plaintiff would have won a default judgment, meaning that they would have been granted the marriage license). So: someone refused a marriage license has a clear injury that can be ajudicated; a state official who does not wish to issue a marriage license and is ordered to do so has grounds for appeal; a private group with “no direct stake in the outcome of their appeal” has no standing to appeal.