Sane Americans need to vote as if our lives depend upon it, because in a very real sense, they do.
In the meantime…
When the religious warriors on the Supreme Court handed down their decision requiring states that funded private schools to fund religious ones as well– Carson v. Makin– our daughter (who spent 20 years on our local school board) asked whether there was now any way to fashion voucher programs that would prevent most religious schools from getting taxpayer money. Surely good lawyers could devise such a work-around.
Turns out there is. And it’s a tactic that can also be used to blunt some of the most dangerous consequences of the Court’s even-more-radical gun decision. (Unfortunately, I see no comparable “work arounds” for the Court’s horrifying abortion decision.)
Maine shows the way to keep public dollars out of church coffers. In Carson, the Court based its decision on the disparate treatment of religious and nonreligious private schools, so Maine eliminated that disparity–and did so in the best possible way.
What is surprising is how little the 6-to-3 decision in the Maine case, Carson v. Makin, will matter practically. And the reason offers a glimpse of hope for those who worry about a future dominated by the court’s conservative supermajority — including the many Americans troubled by the court’s decision in the gun case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen.
Let’s start with the Carson case. Anticipating this week’s decision, Maine lawmakers enacted a crucial amendment to the state’s anti-discrimination law last year in order to counteract the expected ruling. The revised law forbids discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, and it applies to every private school that chooses to accept public funds, without regard to religious affiliation.
The impact was immediate: The two religious schools at issue in the Carson case, Bangor Christian Schools and Temple Academy, said that they would decline state funds if, as Maine’s new law requires, accepting such funds would require them to change how they operate or alter their “admissions standards” to admit L.G.B.T.Q. students.
The “fix” to Maine’s law allows religious schools to participate in the program on an equal basis with other private schools–and as an added bonus, ensures that secular private schools with discriminatory practices will also be denied the right to participate.
In an aside, the Court acknowledged that Maine also retains the right to eliminate its voucher program at any point. (Since most voucher programs–like Indiana’s– have failed to improve student outcomes while bleeding the public schools of needed resources, that’s a right I think they should exercise. But I digress.)
As the linked Times essay pointed out, a version of Maine’s tactic can also be adapted to use by the states (all blue) trying to combat gun violence.
Justice Clarence Thomas’s majority opinion made clear that the constitutionality of restrictions is historically “settled” in “sensitive places” such as legislatures, courtrooms and polling locations, and that “modern regulations” may “prohibit” the carry of firearms in “new” places. Given that, states should enact an expansive list of so-called sensitive places where guns may not be carried. Though Justice Thomas did not specify which those might be, during oral arguments in November, several justices pondered that they might include public transportation, crowded venues, university campuses and places where alcohol is served.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted in a concurrence joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, moreover, that while states may not impose restrictions that prevent “ordinary, law abiding citizens” from carrying a gun to defend themselves, states can still enact rigorous requirements for a public carry permit, such as stringent background and mental health records checks and completion of regular training courses.
Another promising reform for states to consider would be to require gun owners to possess firearm liability insurance. Not only would such a requirement ensure that victims of gun violence can recover for their losses and “provide financial incentives for responsible arms carrying,” but it also draws strong historical support from a host of 19th century “surety laws” recognized in the court’s opinion.
That last “promising reform” echoes several comments made to this blog.
This guest essay reminds us that–as critical as it is to repair a broken and increasingly illegitimate Court–until that repair can be accomplished, we are not without resources to fight, or at least blunt, the consequences of the Court’s most dramatic departures from constitutional precedent and common sense. We just need lawmakers who understand the need to do so.
That means that the most important thing we can do is remember in November which party is responsible for replacing Justices committed to the Constitution with a religious tribunal–and vote accordingly.