Recent events have driven home two stark truths: racism continues to percolate throughout our society and conservative Supreme Court justices appear determined to prevent us from doing anything about it.
The odious racism of outlaw Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is painfully juxtaposed with the Supreme Court’s decision in Schuette v. BAMN, which reinforces the message that minority interests suffer in the hands of a majority of the court.
In giving Michigan’s white majority free rein to invalidate the use of lawful affirmative action by the state’s universities, the court continues its assault on remedies to redress the enduring effects of America’s racial caste system. This string of Roberts Court decisions threatens to undermine the foundation of anti-discrimination laws.
In Schuette, the court upheld a Michigan referendum that changed the state constitution to bar consideration of race in decision-making, including admission to state colleges and universities. White voters voted overwhelmingly to deprive minorities of a benefit that was lawful and that the state’s universities wished to continue. Minority voters overwhelmingly opposed it. Yet their strong opposition did not matter because the referendum process is designed to trample minority interests.
The decision’s most revealing aspect, however, was the spat between Justice Sonia Sotomayor and a thin-skinned Chief Justice John Roberts. Sotomayor wrote a long, biting dissent in which she took on the chief justice’s inane comment in his 2007 decision invalidating voluntary efforts to desegregate schools. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race,” Roberts opined, “is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”