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April 25, 2014

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WHERE I STAND:

High court rulings remind us our votes are crucial

We have been here and done that.

As you get a bit older, life and time get a bit more compressed — but so much so that you could wake up in 2013 and actually think it's 1965? That happened to me last week.

First, there has been the continuing onslaught by a few state legislatures and the GOP-led House of Representatives against the rights of women — more than 50 percent of the citizens of this country — to decide what is best for them, their bodies and their families. Politicians are trying to get the government, with varying degrees of success — in a strange and inexplicable twist of political irony — to enter the private lives of Americans and make the most personal of decisions: whether we should carry a baby to term, regardless of the circumstances.

Yes, I know, it isn’t as simple as I state because these latest efforts are only about timing of those awful and difficult decisions. So sayeth those who would intrude on our individual rights and our constitutional guarantees. But the truth is, it is that simple. And a further truth is that those screaming the loudest to enter our bedrooms and our doctors’ offices are the very people who wrap themselves in the Constitution and scream that we have too much government.

So, why does today seem like a day over half a century ago?

Many Americans don't remember some of the same fights, the same arguments and the same political machinations that were employed 50 years ago when young women and their boyfriends or husbands were faced with the same decisions that women are facing today. There were few options for an unwanted or health-jeopardizing pregnancy. The back alleys and unclean procedures were ruinous to a woman’s mental and physical health as well as a generation’s psyche.

Today there are responsible options, but they are under siege. Just look at what is going on in Texas, complete with a Jimmy Stewart-like filibuster by a very courageous Sen. Wendy Davis.

So now, those who don’t believe that women have the brains, the will and the morality to make decisions in their own best interests are at it again. But will they prevail?

They may. They probably will in Austin, Texas, because Gov. Rick Perry has the votes to run over whomever he wants. And that is when we must look at recent history — regardless of which side of the issue you fall — to understand what we have known now for decades. Votes matter.

Especially those votes for the president because he, or maybe she, chooses the justices of the Supreme Court and they sit in judgment for their entire lives. The decision about whether a woman or the government is in charge of the reproductive systems of Americans will, unlike the ancient history of the 1970s, likely be decided by a 5-4 vote.

Important rights are won or lost these days by the slimmest of margins at the high court, which makes it sound more like a political institution than a place where justice is meted out. Think Bush v. Gore and most major decisions since then.

•••

A second news flash came last week when the Supreme Court carved out the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, passed specifically to rectify what had been decades of planned disenfranchisement of minority — read that black — voters. There were no secrets 50 years ago about which states and counties were the most egregious in preventing blacks and other minorities from voting. Consequently, Congress imposed special scrutiny.

It shouldn’t shock anyone that those scrutinized and circumscribed by the law just happened to be some of the same states that lost the Civil War. Fast forward almost 50 years since the law’s passage and stories of counties and states doing their level best to disenfranchise poor and minority voters continue to be written. The latest stories are not just in the South but farther north, where white voting districts and black and Hispanic voting districts were treated very differently. Had the treatment been allowed to continue, it would have restricted the right to vote of those who had every right to cast a ballot. The Voting Rights Act stopped the skullduggery.

Now that the important provisions of the law have been struck down, those who wish to do mischief are free to do so — on Election Day — with the only punishment possibly occurring long after the ballots are counted and the victor declared.

I felt the pain in Rep. John Lewis' voice last week when he must have wondered aloud what the heck he and others did so many years ago to achieve equality at the voting booth, only to have the Supreme Court take so much of it away on the slimmest of margins. You would think something that turned on such obvious facts to the majority would have garnered at least seven votes. Nope, 5-4.

The attempted disenfranchisement continues — hello Texas, again — but, rather than aiming directly at blacks (let's pretend the justices have a point), some of those states try to disenfranchise voters based on who they think will vote Republican and who will vote Democrat. In the end, though, it is the poor, the minorities and the voiceless who are put upon.

•••

No, I haven’t forgotten about another momentous day at the Supreme Court this past week — when the court announced its decisions in the gay marriage cases.

The Supreme Court struck a blow for equality when it invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act and returned California’s Proposition 8 case back to the Golden State, where it will receive a quick and joyous death. It is unconstitutional, the judges said in the DOMA case, to discriminate against married gay couples. In the California case, the judges found a way to stay uninvolved and kicked it back to the local court, where a decision invalidating Prop 8 will be the law.

Again, both decisions were decided by the slimmest of margins, 5-4 . Regardless of what we may believe is or should be the law, we should all be concerned that the Constitution can rise or fall on one vote!

Yes, we have been in this place before and as the Voting Rights case this week has shown us, we could be back here again, having our concepts of equality under the law questioned every time there is a one-vote change on the Supreme Court.

We have learned since elementary school civics classes that in a democracy, every vote counts. So the next time you get a chance to vote for the person who will appoint the next Supreme Court justice, remember what happened last week. Maybe then you will consider how you prioritize gun rights, civil rights, taxes, health care or whatever else scares us from one week to the next.

Perhaps that fifth vote on the Supreme Court should have your fullest attention.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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  1. Thank you, LV SUN! I came to post an intellectually rigorous retort to this vacuous article only to be told that I was only allowed 3000 characters. Thanks for keeping it simple. Slack-jawed troglodytes can spew vitriolic, moronic tripe. Those of us who think and fully express cogent ideas... we are not welcome.

    Bravo.