Celebrating Legal Victories

The Supreme Court’s latest term came to a historic end this June.  Within the span of weeks, the Court issued major decisions on voting rights and registration, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage.  Some of the rulings came as major setbacks in the advancement of social justice whereas others represented slight victories in the fight for civil rights.  While the Legal Department wished the Supreme Court would have taken a stronger stance in our victorious cases, a victory is still a victory.

In Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the Supreme Court invalidated Arizona’s voter registration law requiring would-be voters  to provide proof of citizenship.  According to the Court, the Arizona law was inconsistent with and preempted  by the 1993 National Voting Rights Act (“NVRA”), which requires states to “accept and use” the NVRA’s standardized form.  In other words, Arizona cannot require people to prove citizenship outside normal federal requirements for voter registration.  The Court’s decision stands as a victory as the law operated to discourage legal Native Americans and Latino voters who did not have the required paperwork to register to vote.

Highly debated since its inception, affirmative action policies and programs began in the 1960s as a tool to redress the effects of discrimination against racial minorities and women by providing increased access and educational opportunities to underrepresented groups.   With the contentious issue before the Court for the fourth time in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, many expected the Court’s rather conservative majority to strictly limit or prohibit affirmative action altogether.  The NAACP hoped otherwise and assisted in advocated for the need for affirmative action in universities and colleges in their amicus brief to the Court.  Fortunately, the Court’s ruling did not reject affirmative action.  Relying on previous case law, the Court held that the lower court improperly applied the appropriate legal standard and remanded the case back for review. 

In U.S. v. Windsor, the Court held that a portion of the federal government’s  Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) unconstitutionally deprived legally married homosexual couples of federal benefits and rights that married heterosexual couples were entitled to.  Reiterated in the ruling on California’s Proposition 8 case, the Court did not create a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.  However, the Windsor decision does entitle legally married same-sex couples in states recognizing same-sex unions and marriages to the same federal benefits and rights as heterosexual married couples are entitled to.   This represents a major advancement for gay rights and a notable step towards marriage equality.
While we celebrate these victories and media coverage rescinds on these issues, the Legal Department will work to keep the dialoge going on these important matters.