Federal judges rule on cases that directly impact issues we care about -- such as capital punishment, affirmative action, environmental regulation, and discrimination based on race, sex, or disability. This week, the Court heard arguments in a case questioning the constitutionality of portions of the Voting Rights Act, one of the major pillars of civil rights law. Though intended to epitomize political neutrality, federal court decisions have increasingly resonated with the right in this country. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that Republican appointees now constitute a majority of judges on 10 of the nation's 13 federal appeals courts.
Vermont, New York, and Iowa have all handed impressive victories in recent weeks to the same-sex equality movement. Vermont gave legislative approval to same-sex marriages, while New York Governor David Paterson announced his intention to introduce and lobby for a similar measure. In Iowa, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional, paving the way for same-sex marriages to begin this month. Saying "we have a constitutional duty to ensure equal protection of the law," the seven-member panel—including two Republican nominees—struck down a 1998 Iowa statute limiting marriage to a man and a woman.
The decisions are remarkable for several reasons...
Though the collapse of the housing market and the subsequent recession are effecting everyone, the origins of this current economic disaster bear distinctly racial overtones. Studies from the Center for Community Change and the National Council of La Raza have repeatedly shown that subprime lenders were several times more likely to encourage Blacks and Latinos to take on more debt than they could reasonably afford, while the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity found that up to 35% of subprime mortgage holders would have qualified for normal loans.
The Federalist struggle continues, and this time - the battleground is the Supreme Court. The Court will soon consider Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, a case challenging the necessity of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Southern Republicans are bringing the case before the Supreme Court, asking for an end to Justice Department oversight of election procedures. If successful – the result could have a chilling effect on the marrow of racial equity in the United States, as well as a negative impact on the future of U.S. federal oversight.
Judge Edward R. Korman of Federal District Court in New York recently ruled that the Food and Drug Administration erred in denying the emergency contraceptive Plan B to women younger than 18. In 2006, over the objection of women's health advocates, the FDA limited Plan B's availability to women 18 and over, and required the drug to be stocked behind pharmacy counters away from other common contraceptives.
In overruling the restrictions, district judge Edward Korman criticized the FDA for what he characterized as a political decision making process that relied on poor science...