US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died yesterday, which is one of the most important political stories of the year. With about a year left in Obama’s term, this potentially has a major effect on the upcoming election. Obama has already had two Supreme Court appointments, so a third would mean that Obama will have gotten to appoint three of the nine justices.
It’s also important to note that there were several more important Supreme Court decisions to come out this week. The court also found, in a 6-3 decision that the federal health insurance exchanges are a valid part of the ACA (aka Obamacare). Some people had sued saying that the law, if properly interpreted, meant that the federal exchanges shouldn’t exist. The court also rejected a challenge to the validity of disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act, but also limited their use somewhat. Disparate impact claims are claims that some rule or policy can cause de facto inequality or discrimination even without being explicitly discriminatory. The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 to prevent housing discrimination against various protected classes.
Bloomberg has a nice graphic showing how long various major social movements took between state action and federal action. Many movements, like interracial marriage, prohibition, and women’s suffrage took many years before anything happening on a federal level. In the cases of prohibition and women’s suffrage, constitutional amendments were required, while interracial marriage was legalized across all of the US by court action, as with yesterday’s gay marriage decision. At least for the set of issues shown here, the timeline has been shortening, and the page suggests that marijuana legalization may be next and could happen very quickly.
Earlier today, the US Supreme Court declared state laws banning gay marriage to be unconstitutional in a split 5-4 decision. The decision was written by Justice Kennedy, who is generally seen as a swing vote on many social issues. As expected, the more liberal justices (Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) also supported this decision. Interestingly, the four dissenters wrote four different opinions. Scalia’s was predictably vitriolic and needlessly offensive. (Who even bothers railing against hippies anymore? The 60s have been over for over 40 years…)Thus, gay marriage will become legally recognized in the entire US within the next few days to weeks.
I actually find it quite amazing how quickly opinions on gay marriage have changed. In only about ten years, we’ve gone from discussing an anti gay marriage constitutional amendment (always a long shot but not impossible in the early 2000s) to having gay marriage become legal everywhere with support from a majority of the population. This is very different from what happened with interracial marriage, where it took nearly 30 years after anti-miscegenation laws were struck down for the majority to support interracial marriage. Rather shockingly, interracial marriage only hit 50+% support in the middle of the Clinton administration. We’ve already seen a huge shift on gay marriage throughout the Obama presidency, and the age gap in support between young and old people will likely ensure that gay marriage will be almost totally noncontroversial within a generation.
Also, WordPress seems to have added rainbow banners on the tops of at least some pages.