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Supreme Court in 2013: Equal Justice Under Law?

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Equal Justice Under Law. Those are the words carved in white Vermont marble on the west front of the U.S. Supreme Court building. But last week, the Supreme Court dispensed a version of justice that's anything but equal for millions of Americans.

We of course have cause to celebrate the marriage equality rulings, and as an openly gay man, and a Californian born and raised in Los Angeles, last week's Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality were personally meaningful to me, just as they were for so many others in California and across the country. It's the result of a lot of hard work and courage on the part of many, much that I have personally witnessed, over the last several years.

I was in San Francisco Hall working for Mayor Newsom when marriage equality came to California in 2008, when the City Clerk deputized scores of city staff just to keep up with the flood of happy couples who wanted to get married. I marched in my first ever - and to this point only - gay pride parade down Market Street with the Mayor, And, like so many Californians, I remember election night in 2008, feeling at once excited and hopeful at Barack Obama's election and feeling angry and heartbroken over the passage of Proposition 8. How could California, on the cutting edge of so much, take such a big step backward?

So the significance of the Supreme Court's decision last week to allow California to once again take a step forward, and ensure for so many gay men and lesbians like myself, that we are not treated as second-class citizens by our home state in our home state, cannot be understated. Equality indeed. Equality that we worked incredibly hard for.

But, just the day before the High Court's marriage rulings marked a victory for civil rights in America, a conservative majority of the Roberts court gutted the most significant civil rights law of the last 100 years, striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act that protects the rights of individual voters from discriminatory voter suppression laws. As a result, six states are already moving to implement voter suppression efforts that would have been blocked under the law. Justice for some, but hardly equal justice for all.

Unfortunately, that's not all. The day before that, the Roberts Court made it much more difficult for public universities to achieve diverse student bodies by taking into account the race of applicants as one of several factors in determining admissions decisions.

As well, the Roberts Court is the most corporate-friendly court in generations. Since Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito joined the court in 2006, the Chamber has won 70 percent of its cases. Over the past two terms alone, the Chamber has prevailed in a an astounding 88 percent of its cases. In fact, the Roberts Court is the most pro-corporate Supreme Court in more than six decades.

And what's more, the Court has issued rulings that severely limit the ability of individuals to file class action lawsuits, and if you have a cell phone or a credit card, the Supreme Court basically forces you to resolving you legal disputes outside the arbitration system that heavily favors corporations. The Court handed down several decisions this term that made it harder for millions of Californians, and all Americans, hurt by an employer, victimized on the job, to seek some form of recovery from them.

I know that despite the significant setbacks, especially in voting rights, it will take the same hard work and determination to ensure that the Court's wrong decision is simply the beginning, and not the end. In the coming months and years, we will once again take more important steps forward in voting rights, just as California was again able to make progress toward equal justice under law this week.

The gay community, progressives, indeed all Americans have cause to celebrate this week. But we should also be deeply concerned about the Court's decisions in recent years. They should serve as an important reminder that every issue we care about ends up in the courts. As if we needed it, this week was an important reminder that who sits on the benches in the buildings adorned with the words "Equal Justice Under law" really does matter.

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