Every politician who gets elected to Congress believes that she's going for idealistic reasons. Sure, there are compromises to be made and certain kinds of drudgery to suffer through (particularly fundraising, which they all hate, and justifiably so), but they each believe that they'll do the right thing and work for the kind of change they'd like to see. Nobody gazes up at the Capitol building having been sent there by the people to do the people's work and says, "I'm going to just keep my head down and try not to take any political risks, so I can keep getting elected indefinitely."
But in practice, they frequently face times when they can support something they believe is a good idea for one reason or another, but carries some risk. As comprehensive immigration reform is being considered in the House, each member is going to weighing questions like the following: How much good do I think this bill is going to do? How many votes will supporting it cost me? How hard will it be to convince the constituents who didn't like my support for it to vote for me anyway? Is it going to make fundraising easier or harder? Is the bill going to face a tight vote, so my choice will make a difference? Is my party leadership offering me something to vote the way they want, or threatening to punish me if I don't? And way, way down the list is: How will the outcome of this vote affect my party's long-term prospects in presidential elections?
Last week's Supreme Court rulings striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and denying standing to California's Proposition 8 supporters have brought out the usual clown show of conservative religious leaders proclaiming the end of days. It's the standard stuff from the activist right: Here comes pedophilia, incest, polygamy, and bestiality. Christian florists will be dragged to jail for refusing to cater a same-sex wedding. School children will now be forced to simulate lesbian sex with their Barbies. Stirred to action by the decision, the Christian right has vowed to resist the spread of same-sex marriage nationwide, using civil disobedience if necessary. There's even talk of reviving the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would amend the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Early this afternoon, the Senate voted for cloture on the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, with 68 senators supporting and 32 in opposition (60 are needed to break a filibuster). Fourteen Republicans joined the 54-member Democratic caucus to move the legislation forward to a final vote, which will be held this afternoon at 4pm. This means, in essence, that immigration reform will pass the Senate. The only question is the margin.
San Francisco City Hall after Prop. 8 was struck down. (Flickr/CHUCKage)
It's been pointed out many times that both the liberals and the conservatives on the Supreme Court often seem to reason backwards, starting with the outcome they'd prefer to see, then coming up with a rationale to justify that outcome. For instance, as I noted yesterday, Antonin Scalia was happy to overturn a law passed and overwhelmingly reauthorized by Congress (the Voting Rights Act) because he didn't like the law, then in a decision issued the very next day, thundered against the Court's majority for having the temerity to overturn a law passed by Congress (the Defense of Marriage Act), because that happened to be a law he did like. Fortunately, the sweeping majesty of our jurisprudential history provides an endless supply of rationales a justice can use to support whatever decision he or she would like to make.
But sometimes, a good outcome can produce a dangerous precedent. And that may be just what happened in the Proposition 8 case the Court decided yesterday.
Today, the Supreme Court finally issued two long-awaited major opinions on gay and lesbian rights. One of them was a historic opinion and a major victory for civil rights. The other stopped short of what could have been, but will at least result in same-sex marriage being legal in the nation's biggest state.
Well that's that. After six years of litigation, today the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, and dismissed the Prop. 8 case on procedural grounds. Because California's governor and attorney general declined to defend the law's constitutionality in court, supporters of the measure took up the task; the Justices found they did not have the proper "standing" to do so. Practically, the decision finding the measure unconstitutional stands, but it applies only to California.
The Supreme Court decision yesterday that gutted the Voting Rights Act is potentially the most profound since Brown v. Board of Education. It’s more important than Roe v. Wade,Bush v. Gore, or the judgment last year that upheld the Affordable Care Act, because it denies the federal government the power, and state governments the obligation, to enforce democracy in any sense that anyone understands the word. In particular yesterday’s decision overturns nearly half a century’s guarantee of democracy for those Americans who had been denied that guarantee since the Republic’s founding.
Congratulations, America! Racial discrimination in voting is now a thing of the past. Or so the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court decided in their ruling issued today, overturning the preclearance formula of the Voting Rights Act, under which states with long histories of discrimination at the voting booth had to get permission from the Justice Department before changing their voting rules. Now they're free to do as they wish, and although one could still challenge blatantly discriminatory rules in court, states like Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina have been liberated from federal oversight.
“The stated purpose of the Civil War Amendments was to arm Congress with the power and authority to protect all persons within the Nation from violations of their rights by the States,” writes Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent against the five justices who ruled to overturn Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.
As the Prospect's Jamelle Bouie notes, yesterday the Supreme Court finally released Fisher v. University of Texas, its long-awaited affirmative action ruling and ... mostly decided not to decide. There is surely a juicy story waiting to be uncovered about why the Court took eight months to issue a ruling that barely took up 40 pages and left the current state of the law essentially untouched.
When Republicans won sweeping victories in the 2010 elections, they decided to take advantage of the moment. They might be losing the culture war, but with control of many state legislatures, they could mount a frontal assault on women's reproductive rights. And so they did; in 2011, there were no less than 92 laws passed at the state level to restrict women's access to abortion. The next year saw a further 43 such laws passed (still more than any other year in history), and 2013 has already been a bad year for abortion rights.
While most of the attention focused on the Supreme Court today will be directed at the surprisingly narrow affirmative action ruling, the Court decided two very important civil rights cases. And not surprisingly, the news was terrible. The conservative majority of the Supreme Court continues to whittle away at civil rights, frustrating the purposes of landmark legislation and making it much more difficult for victims of discrimination to obtain the appropriate redress for violations of their rights.
As a member of the Gang of Eight, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham is one of the major Republican proponents of comprehensive immigration reform. His motives are straightforward: For the GOP to stay competitive, it needs to make inroads with Latino voters. Creating a path to citizenship for existing immigrants—and smoothing the process for future ones—is the only way Republicans can begin to repair their relationship with a community that has been alienated by the party’s harsh—sometimes xenophobic—rhetoric on immigration.
Obamacare is well on its way to being permanently unpopular. A problem for supporters of health-care reform? Not really—because the Affordable Care Act could become just as untouchable as Medicare or Social Security. That’s right—get ready for “keep your Obamacare away from my Affordable Care Act!”