Tag Archives: Supreme Court

Frightening beyond words

I know, I know.

I’ve heard all the arguments about how the Voting Rights Act isn’t dead, about how there are still lots of options for those alleging infringement of their civil rights, about how the Supreme Court’s June ruling really only tinkers with this fundamental human rights protection.

And, you know, standing on the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma this summer,


What’s scary to me this Halloween?

That our Supreme Court could honestly think that, somehow, history couldn’t repeat itself. That racism is over. And that getting a lawyer to fight for your right to vote is anything like equal citizenship.

That’s just frightening.

I have often found myself wishing that those who, today, take their right to vote for granted would have to pass a citizenship test, witnessing what aspiring Americans go through for the same chance to help shape our democracy.

I’ve altered that: now I wish that we all had to walk in the steps of John Lewis and the freedom fighters whose steps marked a generation and threw down a gauntlet that changed us forever.

It was an incredibly powerful walk across that bridge, imagining the fear and remembering how, just a few weeks before, the highest court in the United States prematurely declared that the fight was won.

We must not only not forget. That suggests that this is, somehow, a relic of history.

We must, instead, keep walking.

To do otherwise is too scary to contemplate.

Beach 313sm
Ready to walk

Beach 317sm
Sobbing with every step

Beach 319sm
My husband knew I would want this picture

Beach 320sm
The church where courage was forged

Thankful, Thankful, Thankful

This is one of my favorite annual posts to write.

I have so much, really, for which to be thankful, and it’s an important exercise, this thinking through the abundance of good things in my life.

This year, especially with the relatively homeward-focus of the last several months, my list of those to whom thanks are owed is perhaps a little more personal than last. But there are great joys in the wider world, too, even though, certainly, there are more problems and pains there as well.

I’d love to hear what you’re thankful for this year, too!

  • My kids, of course, but not just in a “they’re my kids” kind of way. Truly, these particular little ones are such a delight: the way that Sam’s mind works (even when he can’t sleep because there are “too many thoughts!”), the love and joy that spills out of my oldest daughter (even to people at the grocery store), the support role that my youngest son plays so kindly, and so well, the tremendous gift that is a baby sister. Every single day, they teach me something about living, and parenting, and I’m so glad that we have so much time, still, to learn together.
  • The Sunflower Foundation: I’m thankful not just because it’s a wonderful group with which to work (even though I pinch myself regularly that I get paid to think and talk about advocacy with these folks), but also because I really believe in the investments that they’re making in nonprofits in our state, and in the difference that their work will leverage on behalf of vulnerable Kansans. They are courageous and smart and fun, and I’m so glad that they’re on our side.
  • My flower garden: So, right now, it’s not much to look at, but I know that it’s there, tucked away in the ground, and that, come spring, I’ll have bulbs popping up and perennials to tend. At one point, a garden was my strategy place; I remember coming up with the idea of a prayer vigil to put pressure on the Kansas Speaker while training the hyacinth beans to climb the gate. Now, it’s a place where the kids and I can work together, or I can be alone in the early mornings or late evenings. It’s something to look at while I wash dishes at the sink or sit with the kids on the patio. And it’s a visible reminder that my dear husband loves me very much, laid out with his hands, watered regularly according to his timers, and carefully mowed around every week in the summer.
  • Some good court decisions (meaning, of course, that I agree with them!). Thanks, in particular, SCOTUS, for not humoring Kris Kobach’s ongoing attacks against immigrant students. And thanks to the federal court ruling that being gay doesn’t mean that you can’t rule fairly on issues involving gays. We’ve got a lot of strains in our relationship, especially you 9 and I, but there were a few bright spots so far this year, and they have not gone unnoticed.
  • My students: Do they have any idea how much it warms my heart to get an action alert from one of them? How I pick up the phone to call Congress in glee, uber-delighted that they are already making an impact on advocacy? Or how I’d really rather have a conversation about one of their optional readings (That they read! Seriously!) than win the lottery? Or how truly kind it is that they don’t call me on the fact that I start every week of policy class saying that this is my favorite topic of the semester? So thankful.
  • Cold-brew iced tea: Who has time to boil water? No one wants to see me on coffee-strength caffeine, but a little iced tea in the morning makes preparing 8 pancakes every day a bit easier. This stuff is genius, and I am truly grateful that scientific minds lent their mental energy to this particular endeavor. Now, let’s get on the malaria-resistant mosquitoes. And a cure for cancer.
  • The public library, ours in particular. I love Miss Beth, who knows my kids’ names and always has a reading selection. I love the fact that I’m not made to feel guilty for incurring late fines–they appreciate the money. I love how excited my kids are to go somewhere that’s free, and public, and how they’ve learned about the importance of the commons. And I love having new books to entertain the kids on cold and rainy afternoons. Hurray for taxes at work!
  • Our neighborhood: I’m thankful for a neighbor who drove us to the doctor in his 4-wheel drive during last winter’s blizzard, for the built-in babysitters across the street, for the communal kid-vehicle storage in our garage, for the fact that, when I can’t find my husband, he’s almost always in our neighbor’s backyard. I’m thankful that my kids’ best friends live within sight of my front porch, and that they don’t have to knock when they run down the street. I’m thankful that we’re building a community, together.
  • Moderates in the Kansas Senate: I’m hesitant to even put this one down, even though I am so, so, so thankful for those Republicans and Democrats in the Kansas Senate who resisted the worst of the policy proposals in 2011, because I’m afraid that they won’t hold in 2012, and that they may be gone by 2013. But I am thankful for them, enough to put aside money for their reelection campaigns, and I’m committed to showing my gratitude in public, so that their voices of reason and compassion are not overlooked, and then silenced.

    What blessings are you counting this year? What do you hope can be on your “thankful” list in 2012? How will you show your gratitude during this thankful season?

  • Seriously? Supreme Court? Seriously?

    I read Red Families v. Blue Families the other day, and a reference to the U.S. Supreme Court case from 2006, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of New England, made me stop (and reread the quote several times). This post is not about the substance of the law in question, or even the totality of the ruling itself (which I haven’t read in its entirety). I’ve read enough to know that this quote isn’t pulled out of context, though, and I’m alarmed.

    It’s the first Monday in October, when the U.S. Supreme Court comes back into session, and, well, I think that maybe a little bit of outrage is just what we need today.

    The ruling includes the finding that the Court should “try not to nullify more of a legislature’s work than is necessary, for we know that ‘[a] ruling of unconstitutionality frustrates the intent of the elected representatives of the people.”

    And, while that may sound reasonable (elected officials representing the will of the people), here’s the problem:

    Rulings of unconstitutionality, frustrating or not, are WHAT THE SUPREME COURT IS SUPPOSED TO DO.

    As in, the U.S. Constitution and the separation of powers and the intention of the Framers, and all that?

    And that’s why this language bothers me so much, and why I think it should bother us all: sure, there are times when I don’t like Supreme Court decisions, and I don’t like the fact that the courts are not as accountable to “the people” as the legislative or executive branches, but there’s a tremendous comfort in knowing that the Constitution serves as the foundation of our system of laws, like it or not.

    We can’t afford to sacrifice that, not for expediency, not for popular sovereignty, not even to avoid great frustration.

    Maybe we need a new litmus test for members of the judiciary: Will you really do your job? Even if it makes people upset sometimes? Because that’s what our government depends on.

    Our third branch needs some pruning: Why social workers should be very worried about the Supreme Court

    It’s the first Monday in October.


    Yes, folks, the U.S. Supreme Court session starts today.

    And, the truth is, our country could be in a worse position, on many of the core social justice issues that matter to social workers and those we serve, when they finish the term.

    There’s some scary stuff happening in the Supreme Court these days, and, while I know that even keeping track of legislative activity requires a lot of our very limited time, social workers need to understand the implications of what these nine men and women (many more men, of course, than women) do in that beautiful building in Washington, DC.

    The always-awesome Alliance for Justice has produced two excellent reports analyzing recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, not only for their own, individual impact on the civil rights and critical liberties afforded to Americans, but also for the trends they represent, and what this trajectory within the judiciary might mean for some of the still-unresolved legal questions of our time.

    While the campaign finance ruling earlier this year attracted widespread attention (and much criticism, but, then, they don’t have to pay attention to that (reason #1001 why I SO want to be on the Supreme Court)), AFJ outlines several other broad patterns in decisions that should alarm, and even outrage, those of us committed to social justice and fervently believing in the court as an essential part of the governmental system which should deliver it.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court is accepting more business-related cases than in previous terms, and siding more with corporate interests, giving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce its greatest winning percentage in decades.
  • Several decisions have restricted the reach of environmental legislation, undoing some legislative attempts to address the most concerning aspects of environmental degradation.
  • In another pro-corporate set of decisions, the Court opened the door for renewed age and sex discrimination in the workplace, which obviously stands in stark contrast to social work’s fervent opposition to discriminatory practices.
  • In the case that bothers me the most, both because of what it suggests about the vulnerability of some of our most vaunted judicial victories and because of the sheer tragedy of it, in 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court essentially overturned Brown v. Board of Education, ruling that separate could, in fact, be equal, and that voluntary school desegregation plans, on the other hand, were not.

    It’s a good thing, I still believe, that there’s no real way to directly pressure U.S. Supreme Court justices to see issues “our” way, or to be more responsive to public concerns about such issues as women’s rights and environmental protection. If the Supreme Court had listened to the mood of the American people, we would not have seen such critical decisions as Brown v. Board when we did. I’m much less apt to decry “judicial activism” than most, too, because I can see some reaching in some of the decisions that have provided fundamental protections on issues about which I care very much.

    We need an independent judiciary, even when we don’t like the direction of that same judiciary.

    But, we also need a reminder, sometimes, that elections matter. And that national elections, particularly for President and the Senate, matter far more than just what the composition of Congress will look like for that term, or who will occupy the White House for the next four years. The U.S. Supreme Court’s future is very much intertwined with the future of our profession, as questions about the constitutional rights of GLBT individuals, the limits of corporate power in this global economy, protections afforded minorities, and the workings of and access to the judicial system itself are likely to be argued in the years to come.

    If we want this first Monday in October to be worthy of celebration, as I believe we must, we’ve got work to do on Election Day, this year and in 2012.

  • New Limit to Judicial Oversight/Remedy?

    OK, so, last night, while everyone else was reading about Michael Jackson’s death, I was online reading articles about the Supreme Court’s decisions, also announced yesterday. Most of the coverage related to the decision regarding strip searches in schools, but this is the one that I was more interested in, Horne v. Flores.

    Basically, the Supreme Court ruled that the lower courts need to reevaluate the judicial oversight of the Nogales School District (originally under court oversight due to inadequacies in the English-Language-Learner program). What, you ask, does this have to do with social workers?

    It’s my analysis that this ruling may erode the role of the courts in serving as a check against institutional abuse and neglect–a role that they have played to the significant advantage of social workers’ vulnerable constituencies for decades, most notably in desegregation cases, in the deinstitutionalization and mental health rights movements, and in the welfare rights struggle. It is all too true that schools, prisons, health care systems, social service agencies, and other institutions often fail those they are charged to serve, and that advocates have long turned to the judicial branch of the U.S. government to redress these failings. In this decision, written by the conservative majority of the Court, it seems that that judicial perogative has been somewhat curtailed, and I fear that that may represent another door closing on our path to justice.