Supreme Court justices to tackle affirmative action, voting

The Supreme Court opens a historic term Monday by welcoming its first black woman to the bench as it faces challenges to previous liberal rulings on race, affirmative action and voting rights.

This year is about a longstanding dispute over the role of race in the law.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson joins a court whose conservative majority has set itself on a collision course with progressives and civil rights activists who insist equal opportunity and fair representation require consideration of race.

“Race continues to play a role,” said Deborah Archer, NYU law professor and ACLU president. As a nation, “we continue to fight with racial equality.”

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has long maintained that the Constitution is “color-blind” and does not allow race to be used to decide who gets admitted to a university or how an electoral district is designed, even if that is the case The aim is to correct the past, eliminate injustices or improve diversity.

“The way to end racial discrimination is to end racial discrimination,” he wrote in a 2007 ruling striking down a Seattle school’s diversity policy that some students were discriminating against because of race race staggered.

The year before, he condemned efforts to draft a Latino constituency in Texas as a “dirty business that divides us up by race.”

Roberts now has five Conservatives to his right who have shown they are ready and willing to make major changes in the law.

Last semester, they overturned two sweeping precedents dating back to the 1970s: abortion rights in the 1973 Roe vs. Wade case and strict separation of church and state in schools in the 1971 Lemon vs. Kurtzman case Conservatives targeted.

During this term, they are poised to overturn the 1978 University of California vs. Bakke case, a 5-4 ruling that allowed universities to consider a student’s race a “plus factor” to accommodate more blacks and Latinos and encourage diversity in their reach classes.

The rulings could not only have broad implications in higher education, but also open the door to future racial diversity policy challenges in the workforce.

In recent years, Roberts has tried, not always successfully, to make narrow or medium decisions that avoid sharp changes in the law.

He could “chair the court on this matter this year,” said Washington attorney Roman Martinez, a former Roberts employee. “The boss has focused his entire career on the fact that this idea of ​​a color-blind constitution is very important to him.”

In late October, judges will hear challenges to Affirmative Action policies at Harvard, the nation’s oldest private university, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s oldest public university.

Conservative proponents claim that both universities discriminate against Black and Hispanic students seeking admission, and discriminate against Asian Americans and whites.

Universities said they do not set quotas but consider a student’s race as a factor in selecting highly qualified applicants. In so doing, they are following the court’s precedents on diversity, which began with Bakke.

Those precedents were “enormously wrong” and needed to be overridden, the challengers responded, echoing Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.

As with abortion, the role of race has long divided judges along ideological lines.

Liberals have pointed to the nation’s history of slavery, segregation and racism, saying the purpose of the civil rights laws of the 1960s was to right past injustices and bring about racial equality.

Conservatives cite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination “on the basis of race” in public housing, employment and education. They say this provision prohibits the use of race as an admissions factor.

When the court in the Bakke case first dealt with the issue, it ruled that neither the constitution nor the civil rights law prohibit all positive action by universities. A year later, in 1979, the court ruled that the Civil Rights Act did not prohibit “voluntary, racially aware affirmative action” by employers.

This long-standing idea could face a new challenge, lawyers say, if the court rules that race-based policies at private universities violate civil rights law.

Such a ruling would likely lead to “some resequential lawsuits about how much private corporations can discriminate on grounds of diversity,” said Washington attorney Lisa Blatt, who regularly argues in the Supreme Court.

The court’s affirmative action decision should not have a direct impact on the University of California. That’s because of the 1996 state election rule that said public agencies may not “discriminate against or favor” anyone on the basis of race or ethnicity. Since then, eight other states have taken similar action, including Washington, Florida, Michigan and Arizona.

But private universities like Stanford and USC would be affected by a ruling against Harvard.

The court will hear arguments in both cases — Students for Fair Admissions vs. Harvard and SFFA vs. UNC — on October 31.

Justice Jackson will attend the UNC case, but she resigned from the Harvard case because she was a member of the university’s Board of Overseers.

Meanwhile, in another battle over the role of race, the court will decide whether states sometimes have to draw lots for constituencies where a black or Hispanic candidate has a greater chance of winning a seat in Congress, the state legislature or a local executive board .

Stanford law professor Pam Karlin said Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to “make us a more just and inclusive society,” and that, in turn, requires consideration of race when drawing electoral districts.

But Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall asked the court to ban “race-based line drawing,” even if it’s the only way to achieve equal representation for racial or ethnic minorities.

More than 27% of Alabama residents are black, but only one of the seven congressional districts, or 14%, elects a black candidate.

Pro-suffrage advocates sued the state last November, arguing that its new ballot paper would dilute African American voting power for the coming decade.

A three-judge panel that included two Trump appointees agreed in January, saying the state legislature could easily draft a second district in the southeastern part of the state that would give a black candidate a good chance of winning.

Alabama attorneys immediately appealed to the Supreme Court. And by a vote of 5 to 4, the Supreme Court reversed the judge’s order and allowed this year’s election to be held under the state’s preferred map. Justice Jackson cast her first dissenting vote.

Court intervention could help Republicans gain control of Congress. His decision preserved Republican-leaning counties in Louisiana, Georgia, and Alabama, who are almost certainly more likely to vote for a white Republican than a black Democrat.

After the lockdown of a second black-majority district in Alabama, the court agreed to rule on whether the Voting Rights Act requires states to consider race when drawing lots for electoral districts. This case, Merrill vs. Milligan, will be heard on October 4th.

Judges will also reconsider partisan line drawing in a North Carolina case that has raised alarm among voting law experts. It is questionable whether the state parliament has an exclusive and “independent” power to set the rules for federal elections.

The case arose when the state’s Republican Legislature drew a new electoral map that would have given the GOP control of 10 of 14 seats in the House of Representatives.

Common Cause and others sued, and the state Supreme Court ruled that the map denied voters their right to a free and fair election. A state judge then drew a new map that should give the Democrats a good chance of victory in at least six districts.

The Supreme Court refused to set aside the redrawn map but agreed to hear the GOP’s contention that the power granted by the US Constitution to legislatures to draw electoral districts is not subject to review by state supreme courts. The Supreme Court has not set a hearing date for the Moore vs. Harper case.

The judges could decide narrowly, perhaps by only focusing on voting cards. But election experts worry that a broad vote in favor of state legislatures could embolden partisan lawmakers to intervene in the 2024 presidential race if their preferred candidate loses.

Another important case this term will revisit the conflict between religion and same-sex marriages.

California and 20 other states have sweeping civil rights laws that require public-facing businesses to provide a full and equal service to everyone, including LGBTQ customers. Conservative Christians have gone to court to seek exemptions that would allow them not to participate in same-sex marriage.

Four years ago, just before Judge Anthony M. Kennedy announced his resignation, the court failed to reach a constitutional decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case involving a wedding cake baker. The court said only that he had been treated unfairly by a state commission in Colorado.

Now, the same Alliance Defending Freedom legal team has another case in Colorado that raises the same issue. Lorie Smith, a graphic artist who designs websites, says she wants to expand her business to include custom websites for weddings, but not for same-sex couples. She sued her for refusing to share a message that contradicted her Christian beliefs, claiming she had a right to free speech.

She lost in the lower courts, but judges will hear her case called 303Creative vs. Elenis in December. Supreme Court justices to tackle affirmative action, voting

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