The Associated Press, whose stylebook is used by lots of different publications, has announced that it will no longer use the term "illegal immigrant." This essentially accepts the argument that advocates for immigrants have been making for some time, namely that the fact that someone immigrated illegally doesn't make them an illegal person, any more than the fact that you got a speeding ticket means you should be labelled an "illegal driver," despite your violation of the law. Unsurprisingly, conservatives were contemptuous of the AP.
As I sat in the press gallery off to the side of the Supreme Court yesterday morning, waiting for the justices to file in and begin hearing arguments about the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I had that sickly excited feeling that you get when the roller-coaster car is climbing the first hill. The day before was easier for me: I didn’t want the Court to take Perry, the Prop. 8 case, to begin with. I was relieved when very quickly we all could hear that the justices had no appetite for a broad ruling. But the DOMA case—and here please let me confess that I’m terribly human—the DOMA case is about my marriage. As regular readers will know, I’m married to my wife in Massachusetts, but because DOMA bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, I’m not married in the United States. The justices were going to discuss whether to end that split identity. This morning, it was very personal again, as it hasn’t been in awhile.
When 20-year-old Sarah Smith got into an accident with a motorcyclist in 2008, it was nothing but bad new—she was driving with a suspended license. It got worse. When police showed up, officer Adam Skweres took Smith aside and implied that he could either make it look like the accident was her fault or give the other party a ticket. It depended on whether she’d agree to perform unspecified sexual favors. Skweres also threatened that if she told anyone, he’d “make sure you never walk, talk, or speak again,” and looked at his gun.
When 20-year-old Sarah Smith got into an accident with a motorcyclist in 2008, it was nothing but bad news—she was driving with a suspended license. It got worse. When police showed up, officer Adam Skweres took Smith aside and implied that he could either make it look like the accident was her fault or give the other party a ticket. It depended on whether she’d agree to perform unspecified sexual favors. Skweres also threatened that if she told anyone, he’d “make sure you never walk, talk, or speak again,” and looked at his gun.
By now you've heard from the various news sources that, in this week’s Supreme Court arguments on California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, a majority of justices expressed skepticism over both. So it's imaginable—even probable, if you believe the news—that we will find ourselves at the end of June with DOMA in the junk pile and marriage equality back on the books in California.
It’s a strange thing, living on the cusp of social change—miraculous and dizzying. Ten years ago to the day, on March 26, 2003, I sat in the tiny hallway that functions as the Supreme Court’s press gallery, off to the justices’ right, trying to hear the oral arguments in Lawrence v. Texas, the case in which the Supreme Court—years after the rest of the developed world—knocked down the country’s 13 remaining anti-sodomy laws. Yesterday morning, I sat there again to hear the justices consider the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, written into the state constitution by Proposition 8. I’ve spent my adult life writing about LGBT issues; back in the mid-1990s, I was the first lesbian to write broadly in favor of same-sex marriage, and in 1999 I published a book explaining how same-sex couples fit into marriage’s shifting historical definition.
It's always dangerous to read too much into oral arguments at the Supreme Court. You can certainly get a general sense of which way the justices are leaning by the tone of their questions, but it's also easy to be misled, particularly when the case in question affords them a number of options for a ruling. So it was in today's case testing the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the California initiative banning same-sex marriage in the state. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the presumed swing vote, spoke in rather emotional terms about the "40,000 children in California that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don't you think?"
While it is likely to attract little attention given today's epochal same-sex marriage arguments, the Supreme Court decided an important Fourth Amendment case on Tuesday. For the second time this year, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in a case involving drug-sniffing dog. This time, however, the Court did not allow the Fourth Amendment to be trumped by the War On (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs.
Tomorrow, I’m going to the Supreme Court to hear a bunch of lawyers debate the status of my marriage. Do I have a right to be married? Am I married just in Massachusetts, or in the United States at large? Simply attending the arguments feels like a high point in my career: I've written about and followed LGBT issues at large, and marriage in particular, for most of my adult life. I still remember sitting at my cousin’s wedding in 1993 when someone told me about the trial-court win in Baehr v. Lewin, the Hawaii marriage lawsuit that kicked off the past twenty years of marriage organizing. Before that, marriage hadn't occurred to me—or many of us, back in the day—as something I could have. By 2003, I knew that we would win it, and in my lifetime.
I've written before about the media's inability to talk about the issue of marijuana legalization without turning into eighth graders, peppering their stories with references to Cheech & Chong and making generally idiotic stoner references ("Put down those Doritos and turn down that Dead bootleg—a new policy statement from the Office of National Drug Control Policy could be a serious buzz-cruncher!"). Whether this is changing now that Washington and Colorado passed decriminalization schemes in the last election and momentum is building in other states for similar measures, I'm not sure. But Mark Kleiman, who has done extensive research on the potential consequences of drug legalization and is now acting as a consultant to the state of Washington as it finds its way toward implementing the law the voters there passed, found himself confronted with a smirking Erin Burnett on CNN, who wanted to know whether he's a pot smoker or not, and handled it perfectly. "I don't think there's any ill will involved in asking the question," he wrote afterward, "journalists simply want to 'place' their sources culturally on the hippie-to-jock spectrum. But I want to resist the whole idea that drug policy should be a clash of cultural identities rather than a serious discussion of harms and benefits." Lo and behold, once he set her straight she had actual substantive questions to ask him, so it worked out fine.
This raises an interesting question, though. Just how capable are we of divorcing our beliefs about the people involved in public debate from the content of their arguments? And should we?
As part of a broader anti-immigration initiative in 2004, Arizona passed Proposition 200, a law requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering to vote. One person affected by this law was Jesus Gonzalez, a custodian and naturalized American citizen who twice had his registration rejected by the state.
The United States, with more than 40 million foreign-born, a number that includes the estimated 11 million illegal residents, is not just the largest immigration player in the world; it’s larger than the next four largest players combined. Because immigration amounts to social engineering, how well we do it has profound consequences for huge swaths of our society, from education to health care to economic growth to foreign relations. Most important, how a country treats its immigrants is a powerful statement to the world about its values and the principles by which it stands.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, the fifth time the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5 has been challenged in the high court since it was passed in 1965. Section 5 requires nine states and portions of six others with a history of racial discrimination to have changes to election law “pre-cleared” by the government before going into effect. Every lower court has upheld the provision as constitutional, and Congress reauthorized it four times—always with overwhelming bipartisan support.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the heart of the law that ended decades of disenfranchisement in former Confederate states is Section 5, the "preclearance" provision. Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get prior federal approval for any changes to state voting laws. The necessity of this provision was clear: without it, states had been able to nullify the commands of the 15th Amendment by passing measures that were formally race-neutral but were discriminatory in practice.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided two Fourth Amendment cases. The results were mixed. In one case, the Court protected an individual from an unreasonable search. But in another case, the Court again watered down Fourth Amendment protections in the name of the War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs.