Now that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled on three highly controversial cases, it seems that the decisions all have one thing in common – a desire to protect states’ rights. Even though the justices behind the majority opinions changed from one case to another, the Court showed a willingness to defer, when possible, to the states.
In the case of the VRA (Voting Rights Act), it seems that the majority believes that the VRA is an intrusion on the affected states. In voiding the criteria for pre-clearance of changes in voting laws in states that have a history of discriminating against minorities, the Court challenged Congress to create new criteria that reflect today’s political environment.
Disregarding the fact that the VRA has been a target of John Roberts since 1980, the majority opinion seems to be a win for those who believe in states’ rights. Unfortunately, on the issue of voting rights, many of our states have demonstrated that they can’t be trusted to protect the voting rights of minorities. In states like Alabama and Texas, the ink on the Court’s opinion wasn’t dry before Republican legislators introduced new efforts to suppress minority votes. Indeed, the Republican Party has been trying to suppress minority votes across the country.
If the Court was serious about protecting voting rights, it would have subjected all states to pre-clearance of changes in voting laws. It most certainly wouldn’t have passed responsibility along to our dysfunctional Congress.
In the cases of Prop 8 and DOMA, a different majority of the Court ruled. But the outcome was much the same.
On Prop 8, the Court ruled that, since the State of California chose not to defend the constitutionality of its own law in court, surrogates could not. On DOMA, the majority ruled that the legality of gay marriage is up to individual states, and it ruled that the federal government cannot deny benefits to gay couples who have been legally married.
As you can see, both of these rulings also seem to support states’ rights.
If the Roberts Court is so committed to protecting states’ rights over the federal government, a position most famously attributed to Thomas Jefferson, the justices would be wise to remember what Jefferson wrote in defense of separation of Church and State: “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
The same reasoning would be well applied to all civil rights. To paraphrase: The right of other citizens to vote, or to marry whom they choose, does me no injury. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.