06/25/2013 12:41 am ET Updated Aug 23, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 21 - "Full Court Press"

Week 21 -- All eyes on the Supreme Court for landmark rulings; and progressive activists and bloggers gathered in San Jose for Netroots Nation.

Rulings were expected from the Supreme Court last week, however it looks as though the major decisions have been left to this week before their summer recess.

Much is at stake in the areas of civil rights, voting rights, worker rights, and gay rights.

We are reminded that ALL areas of our lives are touched by the judicial branch of our government. Not just at this top level. Equally important are the Circuit Courts, particularly the DC Court of Appeals that many times determines what gets passed to the Supreme. Perhaps this is why the President is having a hard time getting his nominations confirmed?

Today, the Supreme Court took action on the affirmative action case. Well, maybe.

In Slate's excellent summary, "The Supreme Court 2013: The Year in Review", Emily Bazelon suggests the court 'punted' in the affirmative action case it sent back to the Circuit Appeals Court for review:

"In a 7-1 ruling (Justice Elena Kagan sat this one out), the court sent back to the lower courts Abigail Fisher's challenge to the admissions policy of the University of Texas, Austin. Fisher is the white plaintiff who says she didn't get admitted as an undergraduate because UT Austin considers race, as one factor among many, in admitting part of each entering class. She didn't win, but neither did UT. Instead, the court made it somewhat harder for schools to defend race-based preferences in admission--but not impossible. Now schools have to show that "no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity." In other words, that the use of race in admissions is a last resort."

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In other words..this ruling makes it harder for schools to use race as a factor in college admissions.

*****Let me say this....because many middle-aged black folk won't say it: I attended and graduated from UCLA, and began my career as a coder in corporate America BECAUSE OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION. Was I qualified....YES. Was I capable...YES. Would the doors have been open to me without affirmative action...NO.

The question is..."Are the doors fully open now for people of color?"

On the issue of gay rights, Americans across the country are awaiting the courts ruling on California's Prop 8, which banned gay marriages...and DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act). Freedom to Marry gives a comprehensive summary of the cases involved in the upcoming ruling.

Although polls show the majority of Americans support gay marriage this has nothing to do with the court. The current court has a conservative leaning (5-4) with members that greatly please the far right.
For instance, HuffPo reports Justice Clarence Thomas (a man of little words during court hearings), compared affirmative-action to slavery in the ruling issued today.

And speaking of the GOP-court -- we will never forget Bush versus Gore, although one wonders if we would have President Barack Obama today if we didn't have Bush as president for eight years. Maybe things do have a way of working out?

There are many other cases...some aren't grabbing the headlines...but they are critically important for equality in America. Especially in the area of worker rights.

Another court decision today made it harder for workers to sue on the grounds of discrimination. IBJ reports:

"A sharply-divided Supreme Court on Monday made it more difficult for Americans to sue businesses for discrimination and retaliation, leading a justice to call for Congress to overturn the court's actions.
The court's conservatives, in two 5-4 decisions, ruled that a person must be able to hire and fire someone to be considered a supervisor in discrimination lawsuits, making it harder to blame a business for a co-worker's racism or sexism."

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Yet another Supreme Court upcoming ruling (not this session) will have to do with whether the Obama administration can make recess appointments. Presidents have been able to do this for over 100 years, and the current administration has been forced to do this because of the stall of the GOP in confirming Obama's picks for Executive Branch leadership and the federal courts. (Which we discussed back in Washington Watch: Week Six)

CNN reports in, "Justices to rule on Obama recess appointments":

"President Obama's recess appointments to a federal agency-- made without Senate confirmation-- will be reviewed by the Supreme Court, the court announced Monday. It will mark a major constitutional test of executive power.
At issue is whether three people named to the National Labor Relations Board lack authority because the presidential appointments were made while the Senate was technically in a "pro forma" session during the 2011-12 winter holiday break.
The case sets up a high-stakes Supreme Court fight between the other two branches of government. Oral arguments will be held in public session later this year or early next."

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Which AGAIN shows us why we cannot just focus on elections and candidates. The make-up of our federal courts is important and deserves attention!!

This was covered in detail at a Netroots Nation 2013 convention session I attended last week. (See below)

Netroots Nation - "Online Activism"

Last week political activists and bloggers from across the country gathered in San Jose for the eighth annual Netroots Nation convention. I suppose some might see the conference as the left's version of CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) however, Netroots isn't heavy on the speeches or trotting out the media darlings.

Instead there were over 80 panels and 40 training sessions designed to strengthen grass roots activists and bloggers. These are the folk, the 'progressives,' who are on the front lines fighting on behalf of:
Immigration Reform
Women's rights
Voting rights
LGBT rights
The impoverished
School children
Social Security & Medicare Protection
Gun Control
Fair Wages

...pretty much the 'supposed' platform of the Democratic Party.

Speaking of which, a recurring theme at the convention is that there are too many in the Democratic Party who are not fighting hard enough for the middle class or representing the ideals they were elected on. The word 'wimps' was used a lot in describing fellow Democrats.

Republicans (a despised group at this convention) were nevertheless complimented for their unity. They may not stand for anything...but they are united in opposition to everything the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress put forth.

I've attended the last two Democratic National Conventions. Those events are more about firing up the base and the main speeches are from office holders. However...the DNC 2012 convention attendees were much more diverse than the Netroots Nation crowd. Even within this liberal, 'progressive' organization, there is still a long way to go in representing today's America. Especially in the tech arena.

I got the most out of the session I attended on the importance of the judicial branch of government entitled: "Organizing Beyond Elections: Judicial Vacancies." Here is the description of the session:

"Judicial vacancies are rarely talked about in our states. The truth is, while we focus on election cycles that can affect change for two, four or six years, appointing a judge impacts us for a lifetime. Hear about the crisis in our courts as 160 million Americans are affected by judicial vacancies and the opportunities progressives have to create lasting change and diversity in the judicial branch."

We need to focus more on the judicial branch of government. From this session we learned #WhyCourtsMatter and why the GOP has laser focus on maintaining control of the federal circuit courts and not confirming Obama's picks.

Click here for session video and a list of panel members. (That's me asking a question at around 1:03:00...they didn't have mics in the audience, but basically I wanted their thoughts on Harry Reid's threatened "nuclear option" to end GOP filibusters of nominees.)

Pay attention to the courts!! Not just THIS week......

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