As we celebrate Constitution Week this year, let’s remind ourselves and our public officials of the staggering achievement of that extraordinary founding document signed 229 years ago, and the later generations of Americans who worked to make it even more faithful to our founding values. Remembering our Constitution’s progress and promise, and the system of justice we need to make it a reality, has never been more important.
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Articles & Commentary
The federal courts may not always be the focus of the American populace, but those courts’ decisions affect Americans every day. This election year, more so than most, that empty seat on the Supreme Court makes clear just how high the stakes are.
Any president, at any time in history, is crucial to this constitutional narrative because of his or her ability to work with the legislative branch to pass laws that enforce our constitutional guarantees and take care that those laws are faithfully executed. But this particular presidential election may be especially important because of the impact the next president is likely to have on the Supreme Court.
Access to courts may not grab attention in the same way that issues such as guns, abortion, or affirmative action do, but it forms the foundation of the rule of law. How this law changes after Scalia will determine whether minorities victimized by the government, consumers threatened by corporate power, and others will have the right to go to court to redress violations of their rights. The vitality of the Constitution and federal law depends on ensuring that individuals have their day in court to vindicate their legal rights and prevent the abuse of power.
Even as we celebrate the anniversary of Obergefell, it’s critical to remember that the short-handed Supreme Court is now in a position in which it may not be able to issue decisions for our nation on fundamental rights and other important legal issues. This is a serious threat to the rule of law.
Ed Blum—who financed and spearheaded the Fisher case—hoped to establish a precedent to gut affirmative action across the nation and force universities to abandon policies that, for decades, have helped ensure equal opportunities for all regardless of race. Today’s ruling dashes Blum’s hopes of rewriting the Fourteenth Amendment to strike down efforts to ensure true racial diversity on our nation’s campuses. Fisher II makes clear that universities may act to further our Constitution’s promise of equality.
By attacking the integrity of judges based on their color or creed, Trump is trying to bully the officials and institutions our Founders envisioned as the bulwark against such intimidation and lawlessness. But we should find equally unacceptable attempts to use the courts—especially the Supreme Court, which our Founders designed to be the “keystone of the arch” of our judicial system—as a political football. So long as Republican Senators insist on holding a vacant seat open on the Supreme Court for no reason other than pure politics, they are threatening real harm to our system of justice.
A deadlocked Supreme Court cannot do its job. It cannot decide important, closely-divided cases about the meaning of the Constitution or federal laws, leaving people in different parts of the country with different rights. The Supreme Court was created by the Constitution to declare the law of the land. With only eight Justices, the Supreme Court, all too often, cannot do the job the Framers assigned to it.
States have significant authority to ensure the integrity and reliability of the electoral process, but they may not accomplish those ends by using means that result in racial discrimination. The Voting Rights Act does not permit arbitrary, discriminatory state laws that make it harder for racial minorities to exercise their right to vote. Simply put, there is no “voter identification” exception to the Fifteenth Amendment’s guarantee that the right to vote shall be enjoyed equally by all regardless of race.