Devon Carbado, Kimberlé Crenshaw, And Cheryl Harris, Civil Rights and the Supreme Court: Why We Can’t Celebrate
Civil Rights and the Supreme Court: Why We Can’t Celebrate
The recent Supreme Court decisions striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (in United States v. Windsor) and reaffirming the California Supreme Court’s rejection of the challenge to Proposition 8—the state ban on gay marriage (in Hollingsworth v. Perry)—mark a major moment in United States civil rights history. No longer can the federal government discriminate against legally married gays and lesbians, and same sex couples may now legally marry in California. Though in neither case did the Court go so far as to prohibit states from denying gay and lesbian couples the right to marry, the cases nonetheless constitute a significant milestone. These outcomes were far from certain in the hands of an institution that only recently had legitimized the prerogative of states to criminally prosecute gays and lesbians, and to deny them basic rights as a legitimate expression of moral opprobrium. But things have changed. Windsor and Perry are now not only part of our constitutional infrastructure; they are part of the American story of civil rights reform. In this respect, we have come a long way. That we have travelled this distance should be cause for celebration. And, yet, we cannot.
We can’t celebrate because despite the affirmation of one set of rights, another—the civil rights of African Americans—is being relentlessly undermined. Continuing a decade-long trend of attacking and eroding legal remedies for racial inequality, the Supreme Court effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act –the most powerful and productive civil rights provision secured through the Civil Rights Movement’s bloodiest struggles against racial domination. In Shelby v. Holder, for the first time in over a century, the Supreme Court ruled that despite the fourteenth amendment’s express grant of authority to Congress to remedy racial discrimination, Congress’ actions were unconstitutional.
Read the full article here.