Thursday, June 27, 2013

De Facto

The most meaningful commentary on the recent Supreme Court decisions is this one, by Paul Butler, at The New York Times. I'm not sure I agree with all of what Mr. Butler is arguing. He offers a very astute observation, however, as to the stubborn nature of de facto racism, something I often work with helping my students understand. Informal practices that may be prejudiced (or which fight to correct racial imbalances) are crafted at the micropolitical level. Local governments and boards reflect the wishes of the stakeholders who form them. Liberals and conservatives will implement policies that reflect their broader goals which guide the gray areas after the de jure elements are stripped away.

That being said, our Constitution is well suited toward obliterating overt forms of discrimination, as long as there are at least two branches of government willing to make efforts at using the Constitution to do just that. It took the Judicial Branch and the Executive to bring down de jure barriers in the 1950s. It took the teamwork of the Executive and Legislative in the 1960s. (But when one branch is out on its own, as the courts were on busing and rights of the accused in the 1960s, success isn't guaranteed.)

Over the past year I've come to appreciate how important local politics are. A consistent thread in the Supreme Court's recent decisions seems to be a respect for states' prerogatives on matters of civil rights and civil liberties. Therefore, it's increasingly important for us to look carefully at our choices at the local level and to vote with our conscience in those elections that, sadly, are plagued by the lowest level of voter turnout. On matters of civil rights, the real battles might be fought, won, and lost during elections that sound as unglamorous as "municipal primary."

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