A supremely mixed bag

You’ve got to hand it to the Supreme Court: It’s hard to pin down an agenda. The justices closed with a flourish, standing up for equality with their rulings on gay marriage.

Actually, one of them was a nonruling, but in the process of, in effect, rejecting a case for procedural reasons, they let stand lower-court rulings that overturned a ban on same-sex marriage in California. More importantly, in the other big case, they overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal matrimonial benefits to all but male-female couples. Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his majority opinion, wrote that DOMA was “unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”

The merit of the decision was reinforced by Justice Antonin Scalia, who threw a hissy fit. He called it “argle bargle.” Before you decide he’s gotten completely unhinged, apparently that’s Scottish for “nonsense.” He has some argle bargle of his own about the majority’s “real cheek” for having the audacity to overturn the will of Congress. Of course, he was conveniently overlooking his concurrence the day before in ripping apart of the foundations of civil-rights progress, which has been repeatedly and overwhelmingly renewed through the decades by that very same Congress.

That’s why this glass is only half-full. The half-empty part was the conservatives on the court putting together a majority to turn the Voting Rights Act into mush. In declaring the key section of VRA invalid, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the landmark legislation had become obsolete and that Congress must come up with new realities to revive it.

Well, here are the realities: Texas immediately will proceed with an onerous voter-ID bill that will disenfranchise the poor and elderly who can’t easily get the right documents to qualify them to cast ballots. Look for Alabama to jump right in, as well as other states that now have a clear path to voter suppression. As for Congress coming up with new legislation, these guys can’t even avoid a sequester, so how can we expect that the Republican Jim Crow caucus will ever agree on something as radical as election fairness?

The argument that progress in this country meant the Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary is ludicrous. That progress over nearly 50 years came about largely because of that legislation. Now that it’s just an empty shell, the reversal begins. Cynical politicians on the right will use every clever subterfuge they can to gain advantage by putting the natural supporters of progressives at a huge disadvantage.

If the suppression succeeds, they’ll be able to impose, on all of us, officeholders who will back their narrow agenda. It’s conceivable that they could stack the deck so greatly that one of their own could take over the White House again. All it would take is one more conservative justice nominated by a willing president and confirmed by a pliant Senate, and rulings like the new ones on gay marriage — to say nothing of abortion and the entire ultra-conservative wish list — could be overturned by an unstoppable reactionary court majority.

It’s up to us to stop them from gaming our system. Democracy, after all, is not supposed to be argle bargle.

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Synd., Inc.