The Supreme Court, in a 5-4, party-line vote, gutted the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday. But don’t worry, everybody. "Our country has changed," assured Chief Justice John Roberts. Once upon a time, he said, the landmark civil rights law might've been needed to right a few wrongs. But racism in the South is no longer that big of a deal, he promised. One less thing to worry about.
Which is fantastic. While we're not worrying about racism, we can also not waste any time worrying about global warming, as Republicans stormed to the cameras Tuesday to warn that any action President Barack Obama might take to stave off climate change -- which probably doesn't exist anyway! -- will just be hurting the middle class.
And on Monday, the court told women who are harassed and abused at work by their boss that they shouldn't worry about it, because that guy isn't actually your boss, no matter what you thought! And why would we need a law banning discrimination against gays and lesbians at work, when that doesn't happen anyway? There is no problem, it seems, that the GOP cannot summon the muster to pretend does not exist. And we have lately been treated to a series of insistences that societal problems have mysteriously been cured, or that they never existed in the first place, and that we are living in a gosh-darned utopia, with ponies for everybody, hooray!
Let’s break it down, Doctor Pangloss!
Tuesday, the court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the “provision of the landmark civil rights law that designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court.” By extension, this effectively cripples Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act -- the actual pre-clearance requirement -- creating a set of conditions that forces Congress to “fix” the pre-clearance formula, something that it almost certainly won’t do, because it is currently too dysfunctional to boil soup.
All of the ins and outs of the ruling have been well-nigh covered by our colleagues, here. (And Howard Fineman offers further thoughts on the big picture, as well.) What’s fascinating to us, however, is that Roberts is governed by the notion that times have changed, maaaan, dig it:
“Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” Roberts wrote.
“There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act," he wrote. "The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process."
Meanwhile, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg strained to point out, “In 1995, Mississippi sought to reenact a dual voter registration system, 'which was initially enacted in 1892 to disenfranchise Black voters,'” and “Following the 2000 Census, the City of Albany, Georgia, proposed a redistricting plan that DOJ found to be 'designed with the purpose to limit and retrogress the increased black voting strength…in the city as a whole,” and "In 2001, the mayor and all-white five-member Board of Aldermen of Kilmichael, Mississippi, abruptly canceled the town's election after 'an unprecedented number' of African American candidates announced they were running for office,” and "In 2006, the court found that Texas' attempt to redraw a congressional district to reduce the strength of Latino voters bore 'the mark of intentional discrimination that could give rise to an equal protection violation,' and ordered the district redrawn in compliance with the VRA,” among other notable examples in recent history of the VRA being used to facilitate, you know, voting rights.
But the guidestar for the majority seems to be that the VRA, having successfully quashed so many examples of discriminatory practices, has obviously delivered a voter paradise unto this world, and so its time has passed. As Ginsberg wrote: “The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective...the Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed." The majority of the court is pretty sure that everything is going to be perfect from now on.
But this is just one of many recent indications that life has gotten amazing in America, seemingly while we were all at the new Superman movie. On Monday, the Supreme Court solved the problem of supervisors sexually harrassing their employees, along with the problem of supervisors retaliating against employees who lodge complaints about discriminatory practices, by just cold declarin’ that a whole mess of people who were previously, and conventionally, defined as “supervisors” weren’t really supervisors at all.
Under today’s decision, your boss is only your “supervisor” if they have the power to make a “significant change in [your] employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.”
The problem with this definition of the word “supervisor” is that it cuts out many individuals who exercise significant power to direct fellow employees — potentially including the power to intimidate those employees against reporting their actions to their employer — just so long as those individuals don’t actually have the power to fire or demote anyone. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion lists several examples of now-no-longer-supervisors under Vance. One of them is a senior truck driver who coerced a female subordinate into unwanted sex with him. At oral argument, Justice Elena Kagan gave the example of a secretary whose boss “subjects that secretary to living hell, complete hostile work environment on the basis of sex.”
Under today’s decision, the secretary’s boss is not her “supervisor” if the power to fire her rests with the “Head of Secretarial Services.” Don Draper can proposition his secretary with near impunity, so long as Joan Harris is the only one empowered to fire her.
This is actually a pretty neat trick. If the court could just legally change “pancreatic cancer” to “cheese fondue,” just imagine how quickly the rate of pancreatic cancer deaths would drop (as more and more people die of “cheese fondue”).
Meanwhile, LGBT activists and their allies in Congress are still fighting to make the Employee Non-Discrimination Act a law, largely because “the most common top priority for LGBT Americans is equal employment rights.” And, indeed, when the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy “aggregated a number of surveys to determine the extent to which gay and transgender workers experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace,” it found that -- depending on the survey -- between “ to 43 percent of gay and transgender workers have experienced some form of discrimination on the job,” ranging from “being passed over for a job or fired,” to “receiv[ing] a negative performance evaluation” or being “verbally or physically abused,” just for being a member of the LGBT community.
But this too is a problem that can simply be waved away. Just ask Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas):
Who wants to go talking about sexual orientation when they’re working? Good grief.
Good grief! I mean, did anyone in the LGBT community just stop and think about how not talking about their sexual orientation, ever, would solve this problem? This is something that married people have mastered. I mean, married people with kids especially never bore their co-workers to tears about their freaking kids, ever.
Of course, you kind of have to wonder what you are supposed to do if you are in the position that Brook Waits found herself not long ago:
Brook Waits was gainfully employed in Dallas, Texas until her manager fired her immediately after she saw a picture on Brook’s cell phone of Brook and her girlfriend kissing on New Year’s Eve:
“I didn’t lose my job because I was lazy, incompetent, or unprofessional. Quite the contrary, I worked hard and did my job very well. However that was all discarded when my boss discovered I am a lesbian. In a single afternoon, I went from being a highly praised employee, to out of a job.”
I guess in addition to never talking about your sexual orientation with coworkers, you shouldn’t kiss your partner on New Year's Eve, because that could totally, reasonably lead to you losing your job. If people would just be willing to stop living their lives or loving their partners, this problem would totally be solved.
It’s really sort of amazing. It seems like one day, we were living in a country where a whole range of discriminatory practices pervaded, and now we are waking up in the dawn of a new age where all of that stuff can either be disappeared through really nice thoughts, or semantic tricks, or the willingness to simply shut up about all the discriminatory practices. Who knew that constructing this wonderland was so easy-peasy?
Oh, well, time to saddle up our unicorns and ride off to Erewhon, I guess.
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