Like many progressive/radicals i was pleased that the US Supreme Court struck down parts of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) denying federal benefits to same sex couples. The court dodged the much bigger issue of whether same sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states. Were this the only important Supreme Court decision this week, i would give the court a B-. But it was not.
The Supremes also cut out one of the most important sections of the voting rights act. This section required some states, especially southern states with terrible histories around discriminatory voting practices, to get federal approval before changing their voting requirements. The newly-eliminated section of the VRA worked so well that it dramatically increased the number of black voters as well as enabling black members of congress hopefuls to get elected.
Also recently, the 5 conservative justices shot down much of the right to remain silent. The court gave greater flexibility to police to question suspects and even pressure them into making confessions. This is especially disturbing given the number of forced and false confessions which have been discovered with DNA testing in recent years.
They also recently decided a case that guts the ability of local municipalities to secure public benefits when private developers plan to cause local harm. This is a 5th amendment case, which requires compensation from the government when private land is “taken”. In this case, what was “taken” was permission to develop the land in an environmentally sensitive area. We can expect developers to sue municipalities more for their rights to develop after this ruling.
In the case which Acorn‘s seed business is bringing against Monsanto, a lower court ruled that organic farmers couldn’t fight Monsanto patents in court. These patents are so powerful that Monsanto employees can break into farmers land, steal their crops and test them for their GMOs. Before this case Monsanto was successfully intimidating small farmers who had been contaminated (but had not paid Monsanto for the privilege). The one silver lining to this case is that the Federal court interpreted Monsanto’s endless statements to the court about not suing as an actually legally binding commitment to not sue any farmer who has a 1% or less contamination level. This, combined with Japan and Korea boycotting some US wheat because of Monsanto contamination means Monsanto is not completely unstoppable. [Separately, the Supremes can be rightly blamed for their 9-0 decision earlier this year guaranteeing Monsanto’s right to patent seeds and collect damages from all who use their seeds without paying.]
These cases combined give the highest court an unsatisfactory grade of D.
And before we all celebrate the death of DOMA and Prop 8, please remember the fact that in 33 states you can still be legally fired or kicked out of your house for being transgender – and in 29 states you can be fired or evicted for being gay. There is much work to be done.