Yesterday, the Indiana Senate killed the bill expanding civil rights in Indiana to protect LGBT Hoosiers. The bill was terrible, but its continued viability at least provided a vehicle for further discussion and improvement. Its death means that Indiana law will continue to allow people to be refused employment, or fired, simply because they are gay. Indiana law will continue to allow landlords to turn away gay couples simply because they are gay couples.
And if you’re gay, Indiana law will allow that deeply “religious” baker to turn you away without a cake. In fact, unless you live in one of the cities that has passed a civil rights ordinance, you might as well resign yourself to continued second-class citizenship status–despite the fact that remedying the situation enjoys widespread public support.
It isn’t only Indiana’s legislature that seems incapable of acting on behalf of the common good. The last time I looked, the approval rating of the U.S. Congress was 9% (and many of us are scratching our heads, wondering who the hell is in that 9%).
In Indiana, much of the legislative paralysis is a direct consequence of the man who sits in the Governor’s office; when the chief executive of a political subdivision is incapable of leadership, it feeds intra-party squabbling and lack of discipline.
In Washington, the problem goes in the opposite direction: a deeply dysfunctional Congress intent upon thwarting any and every initiative proposed by the President is mired in petty posturing and has largely abandoned its constitutional role (not to mention any sense of obligation to the voters).
In fact, the only part of our national government that is functioning (barely) is the Supreme Court, and that Court is on the brink.
When the next President of the United States assumes office on January 20, 2017, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be nearly 84, Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy will be over 80, and Justice Stephen Breyer will be 78. Although many Justices have served on the Court into their 80s and beyond, the chances for all of these Justices remaining through the next 4 or 8 years of the 45th President are slim. Indeed, the next president will likely make multiple appointments to the Court.
Hasen’s article is long, but well worth reading in its entirety. His point, however, can be summed up by the title of his piece: The Most Urgent Civil Rights Issue of Our Time is the Supreme Court Itself.
As important as this year’s gubernatorial and legislative races will be, electing a President who will elevate non-ideologues to the Supreme Court is the most important issue for voters in 2016.
Without a Court willing to hold legislatures and governors to account, America runs the very real risk of becoming a nation none of us would recognize, and in which most of us would rather not live.