Monday, June 24, 2013

Mixed Bag from SCOTUS

So we finally got some big (US) Supreme Court news this morning. It wasn't quite what many were waiting for, but it's still incredibly important. Why?

First off, the nation's highest court continued to gut workers' rights and endanger American workers at risk of discrimination by issuing an opinion suggesting employers are only liable for workplace harrassment if the offender has direct hiring & firing power over the victim(s). Really? It's rulings like this one that has many Americans asking what planet the majority of Supreme Court Justices are living on.

However, that wasn't all. The Court also ruled on affirmative action. But here, The Court went in a somewhat different direction.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck a compromise in its first test of university affirmative action in a decade, telling a federal appeals court to give tougher scrutiny to a University of Texas admissions program.

In a 7-1 ruling, the court left intact a 2003 decision that reaffirmed the right of universities to use race as an admissions factor. The majority instead said a federal appeals court hadn’t properly applied the standards laid out in the 2003 ruling. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.

The U.S. Supreme Court told a federal appeals court to give tougher scrutiny to a University of Texas affirmative action program in a limited victory for opponents of racial preferences. The 7-1 ruling represents a compromise in one of the court’s highest-profile cases.

Today’s decision gives a limited victory to opponents of racial preferences by requiring tougher court review. The majority said universities must prove that their means of attaining diversity meet a demanding constitutional test known as “strict scrutiny.”“Strict scrutiny imposes on the university the ultimate burden of demonstrating, before turning to racial classifications, that available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

So in this case, the SCOTUS majority essentially struck a compromise... And the compromise meant punting back to lower courts. Yet even here, there will be major implications going forward.

On one hand, colleges and universities will continue to face challenges in ensuring equal opportunity and a diverse student body. Thanks to the many inequities in contemporary American society, minority students still face major burdens in reaching college. Affirmative action was supposed to help correct this, but in recent years it's been rolled back and curtailed.

Yet today, some sort of affirmative action still stands. But with another case on this topic set to reach The Court next term, we still don't know yet what will be left of it in the more distant future.

What's really fascinating about this case is that The Court reached a broad compromise (7-1!)... But narrow decision. Is this a sign of what's to come on the big marriage equality cases that are still awaiting public rulings? Has The Court found a "restrained" way to rule in favor of LGBTQ equality? We don't know for sure just yet, but the latest tea leaves seem to be pointing to a fine tap dance to undo DOMA and narrow (for now) restoration of marriage equality to California.

But again, we still don't know for sure just yet. And with more release dates for rulings possible, we will have to wait either another day or another three days Still, it seems so weird to simultaneously scream in anger, breathe a sigh of relief, and eagerly await a reason to celebrate. It's so far looking like a decidedly mixed bag from SCOTUS.

No comments:

Post a Comment