Supreme Court

We the People

Did you cheer or jeer this week's Supreme Court rulings? Whether you experienced elation or disgust in large part depends on your understanding of a short phrase. The constitution begins with the words, "We the People". Who is included in the term "people"? White, male property owners? Heterosexuals? This week the Supreme Court handed down a mixed bag of progressive and regressive decisions in the attempt to further define what it means to be fully included as "the people". What I find interesting is the stance of those who oppose extending to others the legal protections they already enjoy. They sound like children throwing a temper tantrum because they now have to share their toys. Take for instance Justice Scalia's dissent to the majority opinion that struck down a key provision in the Defense of Marriage Act. He complained:

"It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race...In the majority's telling, this story is black-and-white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us. The truth is more complicated. It is hard to admit that one's political opponents are not monsters, especially in a struggle like this one, and the challenge in the end proves more than today's Court can handle."

Actually sir, the truth is uncomplicated. Your politics are monstrous.  Your viewpoint is an enemy of the human race. You fear you might be judged and ostracized just for being who you are? How ironic!

You defend laws that on the surface may seem fair and impartial, but the undeniable effect of which is to discriminate, impoverish, and marginalize. And it is the effect of such laws, not just the veneer of good intent, which must be examined.

With the possible exception of wealthy, white, heterosexual males, who really benefits from the policies espoused by Mr. Scalia and his ilk? Their tired, disingenuous arguments sound reasonable but upon closer inspection are revealed to be clever misdirections obscuring bigotry. For instance: "We are defending the historic understanding of marriage, which is between a man and a woman." Historically, arranged marriages have been the norm in which one family sells their property (the bride) to another. Until very recently, people of different races or religions were not allowed to intermarry. Is this the historical definition of marriage which you hold dear?

Or look at the Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Act this week. The court essentially said that the Voting Rights Act worked so well that it's now unconstitutional. Really? A close inspection of voting-related issues throughout racially polarized areas reveals Jim Crow is alive and well; he's just wearing more sophisticated clothing. (See Justice Ginsberg's dissent.)

Whether they oppose a level playing field for people of color, the poor, women, immigrants, or the LGBT community, the privileged perceive others' equality as their loss. As special rights are pried from their grasp, they whine: "We are the victims here!"

It's hard to see how Justice Scalia is in any way a victim. But let's play along. Perhaps he and his cabal feel like they are being marginalized. A few years spent in the role of the marginalized may be exactly what they need. Maybe if they experience life as a despised minority, an enemy of the people, a monster...all familiar roles for homosexuals, immigrants, people of color and women in this country...maybe then they will develop some empathy.

"We the People" is an unfulfilled promise. It is the latent, ever-unfolding genius of our constitution. It is the hope that one day "people" will include everyone, a "we" of fully equal human beings before the law, in theory and in practice. It is a vision in which all of us work together for the common good because individual liberty is selfish vanity if not spent for the benefit of all the people. Anything less is not only "unconstitutional" but also monstrous and an enemy of the human race. Mr. Scalia, it's time to share the toys!