The presidential campaign soon will reach its fever pitch. October is its apogee. Amid the din and noise and building craziness of the next five weeks, the Supreme Court holds its opening conference today, ahead of the full term that convenes next Monday. The Court fittingly will begin its work ahead of the voters’ judgment on Nov. 6 –appropriate because its impending term could overshadow the presidential election of 2012 in the long run of history.
I wonder if the Justices in their cloistered reflections ever consider the fate of their families, their grandchildren in particular. Historians one day almost certainly could look back and see this Court’s term as the decisive moment when the United States positioned itself for another great century or began to drift inexorably into irrelevancy if not periods of outright civil strife. In the next few months, the Court will consider critical cases that will determine how the country manages changes in its new demography that will bump up against the basic civil rights of its citizens and of destiny itself.
It is one thing for the Justices to consider the law and its sometimes severe and constraining constructs. It is another thing altogether to imagine first what the country might look like in a few years. I wonder if the seeming anger that has become apparent in some of the Justices can be stilled long enough for them to consider the ramifications of the decisions that confront them shortly. Not much of a tea-leaf reader when it comes to the Court, I have read that one and perhaps two of its members have been struck by the consequential and collateral damage their votes on campaign finance caused the nation’s politics.
Plain for all to see, the Court’s decision on campaign finance unbridled the full force of money that already was eating away at foundations of the nation’s governance. The Court distorted the value of the vote of each individual citizen and by so doing the Justices cracked the bedrock of our democracy. No one can argue with a straight face now that an individual like Sheldon Adelson who contributes at least $35 million to influence the political processes of the nation is on par with the 35 million voters who vote against his candidate. And now the Court faces cases that wrongly decided likewise can damage the nation irreparably and undo its future.
If its upends the Voting Rights Act as many court observers suggest it will, the Court will have pushed apart the cracks through which the country might one day fall. If the Court undoes the programs that schools, local governments and other institutions have used to address affirmatively the nation’s history of bigotry and discrimination, it will cleave open even larger gaps through which the country can tumble. If the Court allows for discriminatory gerrymandering of political districts, it will hollow out the core of the nation. As a result of its decisions upholding Arizona’s anti-immigrant laws that target individuals of dark skin and confirming Indiana’s anti-minority voter identification laws that seek to suppress the participation of voters in the basic electoral life of the nation, the Court has set the stage for a truly worrisome future.
Already, state attorneys-general, local voter registrars and law enforcement officials at all levels blatantly and routinely usurp the civil rights of citizens whose main crime is not that they stole elections, cast ballots as deceased voters, violated immigration laws or merited some other aspersion. No. These citizens and human beings are but part of the new demography that many want to avert – including a Court five of whose members were appointed by Presidents representing a party that used race as part of a southern strategy to maintain power. The first fracture in the country’s future occurred when the Court stopped the counting of votes in Florida in the 2000 presidential election.
The ramifications from that erroneous decision are still metastasizing today. The resulting horrors of George W Bush’s ill-advised wars and ill-considered fiscal policies have bought the country to its knees financially and institutionalized partisanship to a degree not seen since before the first phase of the fight for civil rights was won that culminated in the voter protection laws the Court now seeks to rip apart.
Deciding now to hamper further the aspirations of a growing population of minorities, including Hispanics/Latinos, can only compound the damage already done. Crippling the ability of as many of these new populations as possible to attain educations and thereby improve the financial standing of their households will impoverish the nation at the very moment when it and its growing elderly population need a new economic lifeline. All this amid increasing global competition.
For many years, earlier Courts crippled the country’s ability to make whole its Constitution and slowed its advance to become a more perfect Union. Not until the Court in the last half of the previous century began to break down the barriers that kept minorities in social and political chains could the United States begin to make the kind of progress that the founders allowed for to vouchsafe its future.
The drafting of the Court’s decisions regarding voting rights and affirmative action already are in the works. But members of the Court have been known to change their minds. And there is time still for some Justices to think and reflect beyond the sophistic, legalistic concepts that will crack quickly when, in the course of human events, other forces weigh down upon a country far different from the America the Justices envision and in which their grandchildren will live.
Jesse Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.