Dread Judges – It’s Totally Not Cool That Nine Robed Elders Run America
American politics is a lot like baseball in that basically nothing happens for long, long stretches of time. There are occasional flurries of action, however, when the Supreme Court announces decisions on the major cases that have been brought before it. In the past couple of weeks, the court has ruled, among other things, that “naturally occurring” human genes can’t be patented; that the federal government has to recognize same-sex marriages, though states don’t necessarily have to allow gays to marry; that refusing to answer questions from the cops can get you in trouble; that the University of Texas needs to reconsider its affirmative-action policies; and that the section of the Voting Rights Act that mandates some states to get permission from the federal government before changing their voting laws is outdated. All of those are potentially far-reaching decisions, and they were made by a panel of unelected judges who have their jobs for life. You can call the US a democracy if you like, but really, most of the important policy choices are made by a council of elders.
The vague idea most of us have about the Supreme Court is that it exists to determine whether laws are constitutional or not. In the words of Chief Justice John Roberts during his nomination hearings, a judge’s job is to “call balls and strikes.” The assumption is that the Constitution has a clear meaning and that applying that meaning to individual statues is just a matter of thinking and studying really, really hard.
Don’t Celebrate Gay Marriage with a Wedding of Your Own
This morning the Supreme Court issued two rulings that made gay marriage a whole lot better in this country. My friends have been texting me since the news broke, wanting to meet up tonight at The Stonewall Inn (where the gay civil rights movement started in earnest back in 1969) to celebrate the end of the Defense of Marriage Act and the law prohibiting gay couples from marrying in California. Unrestrained joy and celebrating with the community are, of course, the natural and appropriate reactions to this news.
Even Edith Windsor, the New York lesbian who took the DOMA challenge all the way to the highest court in the land, said, “I wanna go to Stonewall right now!” when she heard about the historic decision. But it’s the next thing she said that troubles me. She then called a friend and said, “Please get married right away!” Edith, thanks so much for fighting the good fight, but no.
Joyous though this occasion may be, it has led to countless gay couples dropping to their knees and popping the question as if the only way to celebrate our rights is by exercising them, and the only way we are validated is when all the straight people out there (or at least five of them wearing long black robes) tell us it’s OK. Marriage fever is even infecting straights like Kristen Bell, who re-proposed to her fiance, Dax Shepard, after the rulings came down in some sort of well-meaning but bizarre show of solidarity.
To all my homosexual brothers and sisters: I am cheering with you today, but it should be said that just because we can get married, doesn’t mean that we should. Just look at Dese’Rae Stage and Katie Marks, one of the first gay couples married in New York. “It was kind of one of those things, to be a part of history,” Stage told The Atlantic Wire about their engagement on the eve of gay marriage legalization in the Empire State. Now they are one of the first gay couples getting divorced. Julie and Hillary Goodridge, the lesbians who led the charge for marriage equality in Massachusetts, are also among the first trying to figure out how to untie that knot. Like Stage said, this is a highly emotional time, but the decisions that are made after a few too many vodka sodas at Stonewall are going to have lasting implications.
The Voting Rights Act Is a Mess, but We Still Need It
The Supreme Court ruled today that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which said that some (mostly Southern) states and communities in the US had to ask the federal government for permission to change their voting rules and procedures, was unconstitutional. The majority of the court held that while the South used to be hella racist back in the 60s, things are now way more chill, thanks in part to the VRA, so the law doesn’t need to exist in its current form. Right-wingers celebrated this as a victory for federalsim (or whatever), while the MSNBC crowd mourned this as the destruction of one of the most important laws of the Civil Rights era—an NAACP official said, “Today will be remembered as a step backwards in the march towards equal rights.”
Now, I don’t think that every single person who opposes Section 4 is a racist. I know it’s not fun being called a racist. When I was in sixth grade, I was accused of being a Nazi because I was making a picture of B.J. Blazkowicz, the hero from Wolfenstein 3D, busting a cap in a Nazi’s ass. To portray this accurately, I had to draw the Nazi’s swastika armband, and according to some of my classmates, this made me Nazi. My teachers, fortunately, didn’t take any of this seriously because at 12 I looked like a rabbi in a Tazmanian Devil T-shirt. The following week, another kid wore highwaters to school and that took the heat off me.
You know what’s worse than being accused of racism, though? Having racism directed at you, which is something that happens in the United States fairly frequently. There were 2,924 racially-motivated hate crimes in 2011, the most recent year statistics are available for, and there was an actual lynching of an African-American in Texas as recently as 1998.
More statistics: According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 84 percent of white Americans approved of interracial marriage. But, framed another way, 16 percent of whites disapprove of interracial marriage. You can slice off part of the population, like Mississippians. Another survey, this one from Public Policy Polling, found that 46 percent of Mississippi Republicans, unbelievably, think that whites shouldn’t be allowed to marry blacks. That is some old-timey racism, of the sort that isn’t that uncommon in Mississippi—which is the whole reason the VRA exists in the first place.
Hey Justice Scalia, Are These Sex Acts Okay?
Antonin Scalia is a Supreme Court Justice, which means he’s an important guy. He’s such a big shot he gets to wear a robe at work and no one says anything, and he also gets invited to speak at places like Princeton University. “Come talk in front of our students and just say whatever you want!” the people in charge of Princeton said, probably. “Like, whatever. You’re such a good thinker that you literally run the country, so whatever you say is going to be so fucking awesome. Can’t wait!”
But the downside to being an important guy who gets invited to speak at Princeton is that when you say something that sounds kind of weird—or kinda dumb—it spreads all over the internet. In this case, the weird- and dumb-sounding thing he said was that the government can ban stuff that is “immoral” and, while attempting to illustrate his point, he compared bans on homosexuality with bans on murder. Ha ha, what? He explained it this way to the Princeton student who asked him about that comparison, and didn’t waste the chance to be kind of a dick:
“It’s a form of argument that I thought you would have known, which is called the ‘reduction to the absurd’… If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?”
I thought Scalia would have known the difference between murder and sodomy—whereas both are things that involve two or more people doing stuff to each other, in sodomy’s case everyone wants it to happen (“Hey, please put that doohickey in that hole, please”), and in murder’s case one guy really, really doesn’t want it to. If we use the “reduction to the absurd” technique that Scalia loves so much, he’s saying that you can make a law against literally anything that a bunch of people find immoral, even if what you’re outlawing is a private activity between consenting adults. So, presumably, according to Scalia we could ban all of these sex acts, none of which are “gay” but are probably “immoral”:
Masturbating while your cat is watching.
Having sex in your old room while staying at your parents’ house for the holidays.
Doing that thing where she’s like, “I’m an innocent elf maiden in peril!” and you’re like, “I’ll save you, for I am Galathor the Liberator!” and then you fuck like crazy and it’s really good and you have a talk afterward like, “Hey, is this weird? It’s not weird, right? I’m so glad we figured out we’re both into this! I love you.”