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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

President Obama’s other audience

Will the Supreme Court help America complete its journey
 – or throw obstacles in the way?

When President Obama gave his second inaugural address Monday, it’s estimated that one million people gathered on the National Mall to hear him.  Tens of millions more heard the speech on television, radio or online.

But there also was a much more select audience – an audience of nine, seated just a few feet from the president.  Because several issues the president raised will be profoundly affected by actions of the United States Supreme Court, in some cases, within the next few months.

The president said:

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.

And, in marking civil rights landmarks, the President pointedly included “Stonewall” along with Seneca Falls and Selma.

The Supreme Court can speed the journey, by voting to strike down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and upholding the ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.  Or the court can make it a much longer, more tortuous journey by upholding discrimination.

The president said:

We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

And he said:

Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.

The famous march from Selma to Montgomery was a march for the right to vote – a right won with passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  But now, a challenge to a key provision of that law could significantly setback the progress won by Dr. King and those who marched with him.

The president said:

Together we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

But over and over again, the Supreme Court majority has bent those rules to favor corporate special interests at the expense of the rest of us, something documented in detail in our First Monday documentary, Unequal Justice.

This term, the Court may bend the rules again, when it returns to the issue of forced arbitration in the case of American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant.

And, of course, the president alluded to the tragedy of gun violence:

Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.

The Supreme Court already has made that part of the journey more difficult.  The right-wing activist majority radically reinterpreted the Second Amendment, discovering an individual right to bear arms where none existed before.

Chief Justice John Roberts administers the Oath of Office
--White House photo
But even Justice Antonin Scalia did not close the door to all regulation of guns.  And whatever Congress may do in response to the Newtown tragedy, the Supreme Court may well have the final word.

That’s why something President Obama did not mention is at least as important as all of the subjects he raised in an excellent inaugural address: the need for a progressive judiciary – on our federal district courts, on our circuit courts of appeals and on the United States Supreme Court.

1 comment:

MHD said...

I wish Obama had laid out a broader vision,with philosophical and historical keystones for moving on. After all, his speech reiterated part of his agenda, but not the big fights over civil liberties, which should be his focus for a legacy. Nothing new.

Godspeed to him and to you as the judicial nominations come down. PLEASE let them come down soon, and we could use better Supreme Court Justices too. :)

Thank you for linking UTube to open captions. I don't know if AFJ had anything to do with that addition, but it opens a lot of material to me, as a deaf person. The ADA at work!