Meet Sujari Britt, an 11-year-old New York City cellist who’s been playing since pre-school. Sujari’s currently studying at the Manhattan School of Music and has performed on some of the world’s biggest stages, including at a private event at the White House with President Obama back in 2009.
In a 7-1 vote, the Supreme Court has decided to wait for another day to kill affirmative action. The Court has sent plaintiff Abigail Fisher’s case back to the lower Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling that the lower court did not properly examine a section of Grutter v. Bollinger, a prior Supreme Court affirmative action decision, in its consideration. The Supreme Court has now asked the Fifth Circuit to again look into the case, but to ask the University of Texas to prove, as Grutter demanded, that considering race in its admissions policies is a compelling state interest. The opinion, written as expected by Justice Anthony Kennedy, was ultimately rather narrow.
The Supreme Court did not overturn Grutter, as many affirmative action watchers thought they might, but neither have they released University of Texas from further legal action. In her lone dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she did not think there was any need to send the case back to the Fifth Circuit. She argued that the university’s admissions program was fastidiously modeled on prior Supreme Court rulings so as to ensure its legality.
The case centered around the complaints of Abigail Fisher, a white female student who was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin and argued that the university’s race-conscious admissions policies discriminated against her because of her race. The University of Texas has staunchly defended its admissions policies, and argued that their practices hew exactly to the law as most recently interpreted by Supreme Court rulings just a decade old. UT Austin uses a blended admissions policy, whereby three-quarters of students are admitted via a race-blind program called the Top 10 Percent Plan, which automatically extends offers to the top graduates of each Texas public high school. The remaining incoming class is composed of students admitted after the consideration of many factors, of which race is but one.
UT Austin, in its defense, even pointed out that because of Fisher’s academic scores, she would not have been admitted, no matter what her race was. But that, and the fact that the Supreme Court most recently answered a challenge to race-conscious admissions policies in just 2003, did not stop the Supreme Court from taking up Fisher’s case. The eagerness with which Chief Justice John Roberts has seized upon affirmative action has signaled to many that he’s prepared to eliminate it in his tenure.
Despite having been argued in October, the Court’s ruling came in the final days of the term after weeks of tense anticipation. Racial justice advocates and supporters of affirmative action had long been bracing for a further narrowing of universities’ rights to exercise the policy, if not the elimination of it altogether.
The ruling will not be the final word on affirmative action though. In March the Supreme Court agreed to hear yet another affirmative action challenge in next year’s term. Stay tuned for more from Colorlines.
That’s the question that seems to be bubbling to the surface in the fallout from Deen’s n-word controversey. Bill Maher made the case on his show recently, asking, “If you’re 66 years old, and you were raised in Georgia, and you were a child before the civil rights movement, do you get a bit of a pass?”
That question was also at the center of a New York Times piece that looked at Paula Deen’s supporters, who gathered in front of her Georgia restauraunt and threatened to boycott the Food Network for dropping Deen amid the controversey. “I get it, believe me,” one woman told the Times. “But what’s hard for people to understand is that she didn’t mean it as racist. It sounds bad, but that’s not what’s in her heart. She’s just from another time.”
Let’s hear from our readers. What do you think?
Paula Deen probably had her worst week ever. She admitted to using the n-word, issued a couple of awful public apologies, and then was booted from the Food Network. But a recent episode of Real Time With Bill Maher brought up an interesting question: Is Deen just a product of her time — and should she get a pass? The answers on the show trended toward “no.”
…Maher stood his ground, and argued that the move to fire Deen was another instance of the outrage economy that dominates modern discourse claiming a new victim. “I also think that people shouldn’t have to lose their shows and go away when they do something bad,” he said. Deen clearly did something reprehensible, that isn’t up for debate, Maher says. But he also thinks firing her maybe wasn’t the right thing to do. “It’s just a word, it’s a wrong word, she’s wrong to use it. But do we always have to make people go away?” Herbert argued that, yeah, you do have to go away if you’re going to throw “the N-word” around. “It’s a free country, she has the right to say that word. It’s not illegal to say that word. But her boss said, ‘you’ve gotta go if you’re gonna use that word.’”
NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez is still at the center of an ongoing murder investigation in suburban Boston. Exactly one week ago, the body of a 27-year-old acquaintance of Hernandez’s, Odin Lloyd, was found about a mile away from the New England Patriots player’s home in North Attlesboro, Massachusetts. Over the next several days, a cascade of damning evidence emerged pointing to Hernandez, including reports that the player destroyed his home surveillance system, hired a professional cleaning crew the day after Lloyd’s death, and delivered his cell phone to investigators “in pieces.”
Things aren’t looking good for Hernandez, who overcame a troubled collegiate career at Florida to become a star with one of the NFL’s best franchises. Hernandez is of Puerto Rican descent and one of only a handful of Latino players in professional football, a fact that’s led to some sadly predictable racist backlash on Twitter.
Graduation season is almost over, but hundreds of newly minted high school graduates in New York City have yet to recieve their diplomas thanks to a computer system glitch. Turns out that the company tasked with grading the students’ Regents exams, which are required to graduate, failed. So instead of diplomas, some students got post-it notes with their names written on them in Sharpies.
From the New York Times:
The computer system, created by McGraw-Hill Education as part of a $9.6 million contract over three years, broke down this week, leaving students and teachers anxiously awaiting results. Passing grades on Regents exams in English, science, math and history are required for graduation in most public high schools. Students can retake an exam even after the school year ends in order to get a diploma; the next round of tests is given in August.
Erin Hughes, a spokeswoman for the city’s Education Department, said the city would hire extra teachers for the weekend so that exams could be graded before the school year ends on Wednesday. She said that the problem affected fewer than 3 percent of the roughly 57,000 seniors and that each year there was a relatively small number of students who received their scores, and their diplomas, after graduation ceremonies.
The bi-partisan group of Senators leading the immigration reform push in Washington have agreed on a border security deal that Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham called “a border surge,” likening it to a war zone. “We have practically militarized the border,” Graham told Politico.
The deal, seen as a means of pulling more Republicans into the immigration reform fold before an expected vote on the legislation before July 4th, would send an additional 20,000 border guards to the Southwestern US, doubling the current number of armed agents. It would also buy even more new drones and complete 700 miles of wall between the US and Mexico. Republican Senators John Hoeven, N.D, and Bob Corker, Tenn, introduced the amendment to the bill. It has the support of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate Gang of Eight who drafted the bill.
For years, Republicans have demanded vast investment in border security as a prerequisite to immigration reform. Yet even as the Democratic and Republican administrations built up border controls to historic levels in recent years, Republicans continued to say it was not enough. Now, it appears Senate Democrats and Republicans have agreed to something that might be enough. “If this amendment holds together and it passes as currently constructed, border security will have been achieved at a level that nobody would have thought possible a month ago,” said Graham.
Politically, the amendment will likely gain Republican support. And Democrats will get behind it because it does not create a hard and fast border trigger that must be met before undocumented immigrants can move toward citizenship. Democrats and the White House have said that an enforcement trigger could stall the path to citizenship indefinitely, leaving millions in a nearly permanent legal limbo. Yesterday, as part of the deal, the Senate killed a trigger amendment from Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and instead agreed to new investments in the wall and border agents.
But here’s the thing: the existing border infrastructure is already dangerously out of control. The new investments will make that worse. Though the total number of people crossing the border has plummeted to lows not seen since the 1970’s, the number of migrants who perish in the desert while attempting to enter the US has remained steady. In other words, those trying to cross the US-Mexico border are now more likely to die. Most die of heat, others of brutal violence.
Robin Reineke coordinates the Missing Migrant Project at the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner. She’s one of the people in charge of examining and documenting these deaths.
“We’ve seen that every time there’s a border enforcement build up, more people die,” Reineke says. “In 1994 when we had the last expansion of this size, more people crossing were pushed into the desert. I see this as another nail in the coffin in creating an inhumane border. This was not a war zone until policy made it one.”
Pushing people into more dangerous parts of the desert is not the only way the border patrol build up has killed people. We’ve learned recently from reporter John Carlos Frey that border patrol guards have shot and killed at least six people inside Mexico in the last five years. They’ve been shooting over the border and killing Mexican citizens. We know from the Government Accountability Office that the Department of Homeland Security has so rapidly deployed border patrol guards to the California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas border region that the agency hasn’t been able to adequately train them all. Indeed, border patrol agents are so plentiful that they’ve been shooting each other.
20,000 more guards portend more of the same.
The border expansion amendment may help get this immigration passed out of the Senate with significant Republican support. That may generate more GOP backing for the bill in the House, where Republicans are more entrenched about their border security demands. As a purely political trade, it may make sense. But let’s be very clear about what’s being traded: people’s lives.
Dodai Stewart over at Jezebel thinks so. Take a look at Cyrus’ video and judge for yourself.
Hyphen Magazine’s annual sex issue is out and it’s filled with goodies. Among them is a piece by Valerie Luu on ancient aphrodisiacs for the modern woman, which include: ginseng, epidedium (aka horny goat weed), fo-ti, and cordyceps. If you’re like me and have only heard of one of the things on that list, you can read more over at Hyphen and pick up the latest issue.
Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to fuck with — and the same apparently goes for their sign language interpreter, Holly, who wowed fans during last week’s show at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat captured their second straight NBA champioship on Thursday night in thrilling fashion against the San Antonio Spurs. James dominated with 37 points and was named the series’ most valuable player. It’s hard to remember that James, who’s only 28 years old, has been in the spotlight since around the time he got his driver’s permit in high school. He first captured the country’s attention as a spindly teenager playing high school ball in Akron, Ohio.
Behold: an ESPN segment from James’ high school career in which he talks how he wants to elevate his game and become the best. Mission: accomplished.
Six jurors have been picked to decide George Zimmerman’s fate in a Seminole County, Florida court. All six are women; at least four are mothers. Five are white and one is a woman of color (somehow, in a case that’s central to the way we think about racial justice, no one seems to be exactly sure whether she is black or Latina). Four alternate jurors have also been chosen, and can step in if needs be.
One juror in particular, known as B-37, is white, and the mother of two children. But she also cares for other life forms. During the publicity phase of questioning, B-37 assured attorneys that the media coverage around Trayvon Martin’s death and subsequent protests wouldn’t taint her duty as a potential juror because newspapers in her home are only used to line her parrot (or parrots—that remains unclear) cage.
Aside from the parrot or parrots, B-37 also cares for a crow with a missing wing. And three dogs. And four cats. Oh, and two lizards. Orlando Sentinel court reporter Jeff Weiner, who has been live tweeting from the courtroom, assures us that the so-called Parrot Lady is one of six jurors on the case.
Yes, you read that correctly. The woman who was too busy taking care of her exotic animals to pay attention to the death of Trayvon Martin will now be a juror in Zimmerman’s murder trial. Wait, did we mention that she had a concealed weapons permit? Her husband has one, too. We’ll keep you posted on the trial.
Update: June 21, 2013, 9:27 am ET
Several media outlets, including the New York Times, are reporting that the one non-white juror, known as B-29 is indeed Latina. But others, including the Miami Herald, are still unsure, writing that she is a “lighter-skinned black woman, possibly Hispanic.”
As a smart reader pointed out to us yesterday on our Facebook page, it is entirely possible that B-29 can be both black and Latina. Duly noted.
17-year-old Chelsey Ramer is a Poarch Creek Band of Indians member who wore an eagle feather in her graduation cap during her graduation ceremony at Escambia Academy High School, a private school in Atmore, Alabama last month. Feathers, and eagle feathers in particular, hold a special significance for many Natives (which is federally recognized), and are sometimes used to commemorate special events—graduations included.
Yet Ramer was fined $1,000, prevented from accessing her high school transcripts, and was deprived of the diploma she earned for wearing the eagle feather because of a bizarre and racist contract (which Ramer did not sign) that outlined that feathers are not allowed to be worn during graduation. Three other Native students were so fearful of the school’s exclusionary policy that they declined to wear an eagle feather.
An online petition called “Chelsey Ramer can’t graduate because she is proud to be Native American” was created in response to the incident, and raised more than enough money to cover the $1,000 fine—but it turns out it Ramer won’t be fined at all. ICTMN reports that the school has reversed its decision, and Ramer has now received her diploma.
As the nation awaited decisions on major civil rights cases involving voting rights, marriage equality and affirmative action, the Supreme Court told us this morning, No new rulings, homey, we don’t play that. But the ruling earlier this week in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. was a major victory for voting rights in upholding the authority of Congress and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) over state voter registration laws that might restrict our rights. But will that decision have any bearing over Shelby v. Holder, the case before the Supreme Court that will determine if Section Five of the Voting Rights Act will be allowed to stand?
At first blush, it seems one has little to nothing to do with the other, given Arizona was about voter registration and “proof-of-citizenship” laws, while Shelby is about ensuring that voters are protected in states that have histories of discrimination. One connection is that Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship law was precleared under Section Five, though in 2005 when the (Pres. George W. Bush’s) Department of Justice’s civil rights division was making questionable decisions on voting rights issues. But at root both are about what kind of authority the federal government has to intervene in how states conduct elections. But there are differences.
Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) told Colorlines that the main difference is between federal statutes (Arizona) and congressional authority (Shelby) and how each affects states.
In other words, Arizona was about whether federal law trumps state laws in certain circumstances, while Shelby is about whether Congress itself was out-of-pocket when it passed Voting Rights Act policies. But other civil rights law experts argue that Arizona did address congressional authority.
Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the civil rights law organization Advancement Project, told us that both cases address “the big enchilada question” of “what authority does Congress have to legislate” election matters and “how far is the Supreme Court willing to go to restrict” that authority.
David Gans, director of the Human Rights, Civil Rights, and Citizenship Program for the Constitutional Accountability Center told Colorlines that Arizona and Shelby cases are relevant but in a “limited way.”
“The arguments in Shelby have focused on whether the Voting Rights Act is ‘appropriate legislation’ enforcing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments,” says Gans, referring to amendments granting equal protection under the law and protection for people of color from being denied their right to vote. “Even if the Court concludes that it is not, Justice Scalia’s sweeping reaffirmation of broad congressional power to protect the right to vote in federal elections demonstrates why Shelby County’s broad-based challenge to the constitutionality of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act should nevertheless fail.”
What Gans is referring to is Justice Scalia’s written opinion in the Arizona case, which stated that the federal “Election Clause” gives the federal government broad power to preempt state laws in order to protect voting rights in federal elections — but only federal elections.
“At a minimum,” said Gans, “under [Arizona], the [Section Five] preclearance requirement may be constitutionally applied to federal” elections.
Myrna Perez, deputy director for the Brennan Center for Justice, told us “Thematically the cases are similar in that they involve arguments over congressional power to regulate elections.” She referenced an amicus brief filed by a group of election law professors for Shelby v. Holder when it was before the U.S. Court of Appeals (before it reached SCOTUS). That brief made the case that the Elections Clause provided independent support for congressinal powers to uphold Section Five.
The brief reads, “The fundamental purpose advanced by the Elections Clause—protection of the integrity of federal elections—has led this Court to give its text a broad construction. This Court has interpreted the Elections Clause to give Congress authority to regulate state laws affecting even those steps in the election of federal offices not explicitly mentioned in the text of the clause.”
Justice Scalia wrote in the Arizona opinion that the Election Clause’s “substantive scope is broad” and that it has two functions — prescribing the “time, place and manner” of how states run federal elections, and granting Congress the power “to alter those regulations or supplant them altogether” — created so that states couldn’t simply refuse to hold federal elections. That congressional power “may be exercised at any time, and to any extent which it deems expedient,” cited Scalia from a previous election case.
Concluded Scalia on this point, “In sum, there is no compelling reason not to read Elections Clause legislation simply to mean what it says.”
But what does that have to do with the Voting Rights Act?
“Congress has broad authority to regulate election procedures for federal elections, and the Voting Rights Act is one way to do that,” said Justin Levitt, associate professor of law at Loyola Law School, “and that was confirmed quite strongly after the Arizona decision” — a decision that “certainly strengthens the constitutionality of Section Five.”
With that in mind, Browne-Dianis said she is hopeful the Supreme Court will preserve Section Five. “Congress had the authority to [pass Section Five], they had the evidence to do it and they had the bipartisan support of Congress,” said Browne-Dianis. “It would be troublesome then for the Court to substitute its own opinion for that of Congress.”
The Congressional Budget Office released a long-awaited report on immigration reform this week and found that in the near and long terms, the legislation will contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to reducing the federal deficit. For anti-immigration reform conservatives, the CBO analysis cripples one of their central arguments against the bill: that it will tank the economy. Without credible evidence to back up that position, lawmakers intent on killing the bill are left with nothing but the familiar cultural and racial anxieties that fuel their antipathy to any opening of the country’s immigration laws.
The CBO report estimates that the Senate immigration reform bill, if passed as it’s currently written, would cut the federal deficit by nearly $200 billion in the next ten years. Anti-reform conservatives have often said that an immigration bill will have negative long-term economic impacts. An already discredited report from the Heritage Foundation, for example, estimated trillions in negative economic impact. But the CBO report determines that the Senate bill will actually continue to cut the deficit even after the initial ten-year project, by a total of $700 in the next two decades. That’s a lot of money. And it comes mostly from new immigrants who’ll come to the US because of the legislation.
The CBO estimates positive impacts on other economic indicators as well, including the long-term effect on average wages. Average wages will fall initially as low-wage undocumented immigrants who worked off the books will suddenly be counted. But in the long term, the legislation will grow wages by half a percent. And even the initial decline won’t impact US workers already here—it’s just a result of better accounting of who’s actually working and for how much. Importantly, immigrants themselves who will have new leverage as workers will feel the longer-term wage gains most significantly.
Republicans who oppose reform still lashed out, calling the report misleading. “This bill guarantees three things: amnesty, increased welfare costs and lower wages for the U.S. workforce,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, said in a statement. “It would be the biggest setback for poor and middle-class Americans of any legislation Congress has considered in decades.”
But the truth is that there’s really no economic fodder left that Sessions and company can pull on in their battle to stop reform. So he’s also pulling on familiar tropes about dependent people of color. “An accurate analysis would acknowledge that half of that population does not have high school degrees, and is therefore more likely to receive far more in government support than they will pay in the form of taxes.”
If Sessions is any indication of how the right of his party is likely to proceed (he is), there’s certainly still a fight ahead, but Republicans will increasingly wage that fight with their anxieties about a racially changing country laid bare.
We’re all waiting on five very important decisions from the Supreme Court. It handed down just three unrelated decisions*. That surprised many observers since the term comes to a close next week, and leaves a lot hanging in balance. The court will now hand down five controversial decisions on Monday, and possibly add one more day (likely next Thursday, but we really don’t know at the moment). Here’s a quick primer on the cases we’re looking out for:
- Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. This is the affirmative action case.
- Shelby County v. Holder. This is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act case (not to be confused with another seminal voting rights case that the high court ruled on earlier this week).
- Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. This is the case about tribal sovereignty, played out in the attempted adoption of a Cherokee baby by a white couple.
- Hollingsworth v. Perry. This is the California Proposition 8 case, which amended the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
- United States v. Windsor. This case is about Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
Check back to get a better sense of what the future of affirmative action, voting rights, tribal sovereignty, and marriage equality looks like for the highest court in the land next week.
*Today’s US Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society decision is good news for so called developing countries, however. The federal government has long held a guideline that mandates organizations that receive funding for HIV and AIDs prevention and treatment abroad unequivocally oppose sex work and sex trafficking. The justices ruled today that that policy is in violation of the First Amendment.
When voters in Maryland narrowly upheld the state’s law allowing same-sex marriage last November, the move was considered a historic win for the country’s gay rights movement. But the journey toward that victory wasn’t easy. In her new film “The New Black”, filmmaker Yoruba Richen details the hard-fought battle as it played out in Maryland’s black communities. At the heart of the film is the tension within black faith communities over same-sex marriage and gay rights, and the often fraught saying that gay rights are the new civil rights issue of our time — a comparison that rankles many civil rights veterans in the black community.
The film made its debut at IFC Center in Manhattan’s West Village and was followed by a lively Q&A with the film’s leading characters. More than 100 people packed the small theater. To see if there’s a screening near you, check out the film’s website.
Concession workers at San Francisco’s AT&T ballpark staged a protest this week at the stadium to demand better wages and working conditions. Protests, which began in May, continued on Tuesday as the San Francisco Giants took on the San Diego Padres.
The Bay Area’s KRON 4 reports that workers staged a loud but peaceful protest at a garlic fries stand right behind home plate. The workers are striking for a new contract with wage increases, benefits, and job security. The San Francisco Giants have won two championships in recent years and drawn record crowds to the stadium, but workers there have gone 1,541 days without a raise, according to The Giant Zero, a workers’ website hosted by Unite HERE.