Colorlines

NOW IN RACIAL JUSTICE

A Hard Blow to Tribal Sovereignty

A Hard Blow to Tribal Sovereignty

Update: June 25, 2012, 2pm ET

The ruling does not necessarily mean that Baby Veronica will be placed back with the Copabianocos. The case is being bounced back to the lower South Carolina court. If it rules to terminate Dusten Brown’s parental rights, the grandparents and the Cherokee Nation may still have a say in the child’s placement. 

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In a 5 to 4 decision today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) does not block termination of a Native father’s parental rights. The court appears to have ruled as if it was deciding the issue based on race—when a better lens to understand the case, called Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, is through tribal sovereignty.

First, some quick background on the case and on ICWA itself (fuller background here). Christy Maldonado gave birth to a baby in 2009 whose father, Dusten Brown, is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Because of self-determination, the Cherokee Nation decides who its citizens are—and because Dusten Brown is Cherokee, his baby, named Veronica, is Cherokee as well. Maldonado and Brown lost touch by the time the baby was born, and Brown was never informed of the baby’s birth. Maldonado decided to put the baby up for adoption, and a white couple named Melanie and Matt Capobianco took Veronica into pre-adoptive care.

Just to be clear, although the case is called Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, the Copabiancos never adopted Veronica. When Brown was served with Maldonado’s intention to place the baby up for adoption, he immediately fought the decision. A South Carolina court agreed that a non-custodial Native father was, indeed a father for the purpose of the case, under ICWA.

So what does ICWA do? The act was created because of incredibly high rates of white parents adopting Native children; in states like Minnesota, that have large Native populations, non-Natives raised 90 percent of Native babies and children put up for adoption. Those adoptions sever ties to Native tribes and communities, endangering the very existence of these tribes and nations. In short, if enough Native babies are adopted out, there will literally not be enough citizens to compose a nation. ICWA sought to stem that practice by creating a policy that keeps Native adoptees with their extended families, or within their tribes and nations. The policy speaks to the core point of tribal sovereignty: Native tribes and nations use it to determine their future, especially the right to keep their tribes and nations together. 

But leave it to the Supreme Court to miss the point altogether this morning. The prevailing justices failed to honor tribal sovereignty in today’s ruling. In writing for the court’s majority, Justice Samuel Alito opened his delivery on the ruling with these words:

This case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee.

What Alito (along with Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Breyer) is perhaps willfully missing is that the Cherokee Nation does not classify its citizens in that way. Baby Veronica is not a certain percentage Cherokee—she is Cherokee, as determined by her nation. The high court’s first sentence, based in the colonial practice of blood quantum instead of the way that citizenship is determined by the Cherokee Nation, illustrates that the justices made this case about race—in their mind—and not about tribal sovereignty in the law. By this flawed logic, the high court ruled that Baby Veronica is somehow not Native enough to be protected by ICWA.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissenting opinion, and was joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan—and, in part, by Justice Scalia. In honoring the spirit in which ICWA was created, Sotomayor wrote:

Unlike the majority, I cannot adopt a reading of ICWA that is contrary to both its text and its stated purpose.

Baby Veronica has been in her father’s care, and will now be ripped apart from her nation in Oklahoma, and taken to South Carolina, where she will be adopted by a white couple—continuing a practice that tears Native tribes and nations apart. And while this is very much a heartbreaking day for Dusten Brown, the Cherokee Nation, and all Native tribes and nations whose right to a future has been put in peril through adoptions, it’s also a sad day for tribal sovereignty, which is clearly under attack in the high court in the land.

OK, Congress, Time to Get Your (Voting Rights) Act Together

OK, Congress, Time to Get Your (Voting Rights) Act Together

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Section Four coverage formula of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional because the logic used the last time it was updated—the early 1970s—doesn’t apply to present-day challenges involving voting discrimination. Section Four creates the critieria for which jurisdictions can be covered by Section Five. 

This is definitely a devastating blow to the Voting Rights Act, but it could have been way worse. The Supreme Court could have ruled that Section Five itself was unconstitutional, but it didn’t do that (though, Justice Clarence Thomas said in his written opinion he wanted Section Five ruled unconstitutional). It only ruled that the coverage formula that makes Section Five possible needs to be re-jiggered by Congress. Had Section Five been ruled unconstitutional, that would mean no state or jurisdiction would ever have to be subjected to federal review of new election laws for possible discrimination. 

Now it’s on to Congress. It is Congress that created the formula for Section Five and only Congress can fix it. In their last re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, they did not make changes to the formula, mainly because their evidence—15,000 pages worth of evidence—illustrated that voting rights problems still occurred in the areas identified in the prevailing coverage formula.

What happened this morning is that the Supreme Court positioned itself as the evidence-gathering body to determine the Voting Rights Act’s validity, and substituted its own opinion for that of Congress—even though Congress overwhelmingly re-authorized the Act in 2006; not one vote was placed against it in the Senate.

The Section Four coverage formula that is in dispute judged jurisdictions by their record of discrimination against voters of color and against those who speak English as their second language. It mostly led to coverage of areas in the old Confederate South, including Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and parts of Florida. But it also covered areas in New York, Alaska, New Hampshire and California. Those areas have been required to submit new election law changes to the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court in D.C. for “preclearance”—or, a review to determine if any racial discrimination could result from the change. 

Wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in his opinion:

In 1966, the coverage formula was “rational in both practice and theory.” It looked to cause (discriminatory tests) and effect (low voter registration and turnout), and tailored the remedy (preclearance) to those jurisdictions exhibiting both. By 2009, however, the “coverage formula raise[d] serious constitutional questions.’ Coverage today
is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices. The formula captures States by reference to literacy tests and low voter registration and turnout in the 1960s and early 1970s. But such tests have been banned for over 40 years. And voter registration and turnout numbers in covered States have risen dramatically. In 1965, the States could be divided into those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout and those without those characteristics. Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the Nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.

Congress will now have to go back into the act and find a new way to identify areas that deserve federal oversight. This will be a tough sell politically. It’s hard to imagine anything passing through Congress in this day and age. It’s even harder to fathom that a senator or representative from a previously uncovered state would self-indict his or her state—basically, confess that the state has voting problems that the federal government should address—and act on that by creating a law to have itself policed.

Some of the uncovered states that had major voting problems in 2008 and 2012: Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Only five counties in Florida are covered, but there were problems all over the state. What’s needed is a universal right to vote, constitutionally protected, as civil rights advocates have argued. But for that also, Congress will have to get its act together. 

For more explanation on Section 4 and Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, read our comprehensive past coverage:

North Carolina: A Case for the Voting Rights Act’s Modern Relevance” — February 27, 2013

What is Alabama’s Problem With the Voting Rights Act?” — February 26, 2013

Voting Rights Icon Lawrence Guyot’s Death Animates Fight Over Future” — December 6, 2012

Why the Voting Rights Act Likely Won’t Survive Supreme Court Review” — November 14, 2012

Today’s the Voting Rights Act’s Birthday. What’s It to You?” — August 6, 2012; Julianne Hing

Texas vs. Voting Rights Act, 1944 to 2012” [Infographic] — July 12, 2012; Hatty Lee

Texas Wants to Say Adios to the Voting Rights Act’s Authority” — July 10, 2012; Aura Bogado

The Growing Debate Over the Voting Rights Act” — May 24, 2012 

Supreme Court Guts Voting Rights Act

Supreme Court Guts Voting Rights Act

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which determines what states and jurisdictions are covered by Section 5, is invalid after less than 50 years of protecting African Americans and people of color. The currently covered areas are places that historically have disenfranchised people of color, or those for whom English is their second language. But Chief Justice John Roberts has ruled that the formula, which was last updated in the late 1960s-early 1970s, must be updated by Congress so that it covers areas that violate voting rights today. Chief Roberts, who’s had a beef with the Voting Rights Act since the early 1980s, wrote in the majority opinion:

“In assessing the ‘current need’ for a preclearance system treating States differently from one another today, history since 1965  cannot be ignored. The Fifteenth Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future. To serve that purpose, Congress—if it is to divide the States—must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. … Congress did not use that record to fashion a coverage formula grounded in current conditions. It instead re-enacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.”

This is not a total loss for the Voting Rights Act. Section Five can still stand if Congress is able to fix the formula so that it covers areas they consider presently running afoul of voting rights. Meanwhile, here are the currently covered states worth watching now that this ruling affects:

  • North Carolina: Republicans, who control both state legislative chambers and the governor’s office, have proposed and/or passed bills that would require a narrow set of photo identification cards to vote, that would cut early voting, potentially penalize the parents of college students who vote away from their parents home, and would implement probably the strictest felony disenfranchisement law in the nation. None of these are law, but they would have had to pass federal preclearance review under Section 5. Almost 500,000 North Carolinians lack the ID needed to vote under the proposed law, a third of them African Americans. Hundreds of North Carolina citizens have been arrested over the past couple months while protesting these laws. 
  • Virginia: Passed a voter ID bill that survived federal preclearance review last year, but then doubled down and passed an even stricter photo voter ID law this year, which had not yet been submitted for Section 5 review. Now it doesn’t need to. Meanwhile, it’s estimated up to 870,000 Virginians lack the ID needed to vote under the new law, a disproportionate number of whom are African Americans. 
  • Alabama: Passed a photo voter ID law and a proof-of-citizenship voter registration law in 2011 that isn’t scheduled to go into effect until 2014. It had been submitted for Section 5 review, but was withdrawn a month ago. Now it won’t be reviewed for discriminatory effects. 
  • Mississippi: No African American has won a statewide office in this state (nor in any of the states above)[CORRECTION: Virginia elected a black governor in 1986], and a voter ID bill it passed last year may make it harder for black candidates to get elected when those most likely to be disenfranchised by this law are African Americans. 

Other states like Texas and South Carolina, which Section 5 reviews blocked from passing racially discriminatory voting laws, could attempt to reinstate those laws. But as Justin Levitt, an election law professor at Loyola Law School, told Colorlines, it’s not just the states we need to be worried about. 

“One of the most important pieces of Section 5 is that it prevents local efforts to discriminate in the allocation of local political power: districts for city council and county commission and local judicial offices that really affect the responsiveness of representation and justice in local democracies, in all of the kitchen-table issues that affect our lives most tangibly,” said Levitt. “When Texas passes a discriminatory statewide law, there are lots of voices in the fight, but when a tiny municipality in southwest Texas does the same, it gets a lot less attention.”

Civil rights groups that have fought both for the Voting Rights Act to be created, and to defend it in the decades after have expressed disappointment. Before the Supreme Court’s ruling, Natasha Korgaonkar, assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., the entity that argued the case, told Colorlines that they were “optimistic” that Section 5 would be upheld, and if not that Congress would have to “step in.”

Meanwhile, Jotaka Eaddy, senior director of NAACP’s voting rights program told Colorlines that the Court’s decision “will not change our game plan.” Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the civil rights law organization Advancement Project, called the decision “a huge loss” and that “the biggest harm is to the voters.” Her organization’s work would not be deterred though, she said.

“We will have to continue to do what we did in 2012 and bring our own affirmative cases,” said Browne-Dianis. “We really will have to step up our efforts to do more affirmative litigation, which is a problem because the federal government has been an important player in stopping discrimination before it happens,” through the Voting Rights Act.

Advancement Project and the NAACP have been embroiled in the civil rights struggle against North Carolina’s proposed voter suppression laws. Browne-Dianis said that this decision “could hasten the changes that are being proposed in North Carolina to make it harder to vote.”

In Texas, where the state filed its own challenge to Section 5 with the Supreme Court, Christina Sanders, state director of the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund, said, “This [case] shows us that it is important, now more than ever, to educate our neighbors and communities about building local power to ensure that all votes are protected.”

In Florida, where voter waiting lines for African Americans were the longest in the nation, laws that cut early voting were blocked by Section 5 challenges. Election law professor Dan Smith, of University of Florida, said that challenges to discriminatory laws, like the cuts to early voting that disproportionally impacted black voters, would be more difficult without Section 5. 

“We’re only talking about five counties out of 67,” that are covered by Section 5 in Florida. “But when you have [Section Five] as a vehicle you can challenge the entire state law because of the uniform election code. With respect to the voting rights issues in Florida it has been a major piece of legislation that has protected the rights of minorities and I fear for that leverage to be pulled away from voting rights activists.”

Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, and co-author of their recent report “If Section 5 Falls: New Voting Implications,” told Colorlines that they will  be working with a coalition of voters, advocates and members of Congress to come up with new measures “that provide robust and ample protections for voters.”

 

Senate Passes Border Militarization Amendment With Bipartisan Support

Senate Passes Border Militarization Amendment With Bipartisan Support

The Senate agreed last night to amend the immigration reform bill to inject billions of new dollars into militarizing the US-Mexico border. The amendment, considered a compromise to galvanize Republican support to guarantee a supermajority in favor of the larger immigration overhaul, will lead to an expansion of border security beyond what even the most conservative members of Congress had previously demanded. 

All of the 52 Democrats in the Senate were joined by 15 Republicans in voting to close debate on the amendment. The amendment, which was introduced last week by two Republican Senators, will double the number of border patrol to 40,000 from 20,000 in the next decade, purchase new security technology including drones and Blackhawk helicopters. It will also require the Department of Homeland Security to build 700 miles of new walls and fences on the border between the US and Mexico.  It’s all at a cost of $30 billion.

Before its passage, a number of leading immigrant rights groups blasted the amendment as a serious threat to the rights and safety of border communities. 

“Border communities, and the DREAMers and families who live in the Southwest, have already been subjected to criminalization and militarization,” Evelyn Rivera of the group United We Dream said in a statement. “This amendment is based on the false notion that our border is not secure or there hasn’t been adequate enforcement up to this point.”

The agreement was reached last week as the Senate rejected a proposal from Sen. John Cornyn, R, TX., that would have tied the bill’s path to citizenship to the completion of a set of out-of-reach border enforcement goalposts.  The so-called border triggers threatened to leave undocumented immigrants in a permanent legal limbo, Democrats argued. Cornyn’s amendment would have added 5,000 more agents to the border.

Yesterday’s border security amendment, which passed a cloture vote, will grow enforcement on the US-Mexico to levels never before seen. But many Democrats rallied behind the proposal because it does not tie the path to citizenship to a separate congressional approval of the border expansions. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D, N.Y., who helped lead the group of Senators who drafted the reform bill, said on the Senate floor yesterday that the new amendment will “make sure that the triggers could not be used deliberatively, by someone opposed to the path to citizenship, as a way to block it.”

Immigrant rights groups warned that the compromise strategy is risky not only for border communities, but also for the prospects of passing an immigration bill in the House, which is poised to push any immigration legislation aggressively to the right.

“It makes little sense for Democrats to capitulate to irrational Republican demands, particularly at this stage in the legislative process,” Chris Newman of the group National Day Laborers Network said in a statement, “Our focus should be on passing the best possible legislation in the Senate to maximize our ability to beat back the xenophobic and racist views that seem to have held the House of Representatives hostage.”

Even as the amendment promised a massive expansion of militarized presence at the border, many Republicans in Senate remained committed to opposing reform legislation. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has remained one of the staunchest opponents of the immigration bill, said he would not support the legislation even with the amendment because it conforms to what he called the “legalization first philosophy.” 

The Senate is expected to pass the full reform bill before July 4th. It’s yet to be seen whether House Republicans, who are expected to take up immigration next month, will accept the draconian amendments as sufficient and get behind reform or follow Grassley’s lead in opposing any bill.

Watching Zimmerman’s Trial Might Break Your Heart

Watching Zimmerman's Trial Might Break Your Heart

George Zimmerman is finally having his day in court. We know that the jury includes some interesting, concealed-weapons-permit-having jurors. The stage is now set for heartbreak from the witness stand.

In a case about life and death—and the charge of second-degree murder to be specific—Zimmerman defense attorney Don West started his opening statement with a knock-knock joke that no one seemed to find too amusing.

The courtroom grew somber as the state called its first witness: 15-year-old Chad Joseph. His mother is Brandy Green; her boyfriend is Tracy Martin (Trayvon’s father). Joseph—whose relationship to Trayvon might be described as a stepbrother to Trayvon—testified that he and Trayvon watched television and played video games all day on that fateful February day last year that would end with Trayvon’s death. Joseph explained that he stayed home while Trayvon went to the local store for goodies—adding that he asked Trayvon to get him Skittles.

That was the last time Joseph ever saw Trayvon alive.

Where to Get Your ‘Native Americans Discovered Columbus’ Tee

Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 4.04.29 PM.pngNavajo Times reporter Shondiin Silversmith did a great write up on Jared Yazzie and his OxDx t-shirts. Silversmith writes that Yazzie was once an engineering student, but soon turned to graphic design:

He sold his first shirt design to 25 people, whom he calls his “dream team.” The design on his first shirt was of a Navajo child’s head with a distorted dream bubble floating above him and a bandana that says “dreamer.”

“After that I had enough money to come up with my next design,” Yazzie said.

He left UA and moved to Phoenix in 2010 where he continued to design his shirts.

“Everything is either hand-drawn by me or graphically altered by me. I do all the graphics for my stuff,” Yazzie said. Each of his T-shirts is either screen-printed or hand-painted.

Yazzie learned the screen-printing process in his brother’s garage from a friend in 2011. When he first started, his designs would be sent out to screen shops and professionally printed, but does the printing himself today.

Read the rest of the article—and check out Yazzie’s Native Super Woman, Native Americans Discover Columbus, and other shirts at http://oxdx.storenvy.com/

Justice Ginsburg’s Dissent a Roadmap for Defenders of Affirmative Action

Justice Ginsburg's Dissent a Roadmap for Defenders of Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court has left affirmative action alone for now, even as they’ve indicated that race-conscious admissions policies stand on shaky legal ground. But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used her dissent to provide an outline for the University of Texas to follow, as it will presumably continue to defend its admissions program when the case returns to the Fifth Circuit. 

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the lower Fifth Circuit Court didn’t properly examine whether the University of Texas’ admissions policies fulfilled a compelling state interest, as they’re required to do by Grutter v. Bollinger, a prior Supreme Court ruling. Ginsburg disagreed.

“In my view, the courts below adhered to this court’s pathmarking decisions and there is no need for a second look,” Ginsburg said today when reading her dissent aloud, the AP reported. The Supreme Court had sufficient information to gauge whether the University of Texas complied with the legal standard set by Grutter, and according to Ginsburg, their program is constitutional.

Still, Ginsburg wrote for just herself, while Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that he’d overturn Grutter altogether. She used her opinion to lay out a framework for the University of Texas to follow, and to push back on the arguments made by the plaintiff, a white Texan named Abigail Fisher who was denied admission to the university.

Eliminating race and using race-blind alternatives could be able to produce a diverse student body to a satisfactory degree, Fisher argued, and so race-conscious admissions ought to be eliminated. Fisher stood in favor of Texas’ Top 10 Percent Plan, which automatically accepts a portion of the top graduates from each Texas public high school, and the separate admissions process Texas uses to round out its incoming class, which takes other factors, of which race is but one, into account. The Top 10 Percent Plan seemingly race-neutral, yet because of enduring residential segregation that determines where students go to school, “race consciousness, not blindness to race, … drives such plans,” Ginsburg wrote.

“[O]nly an ostrich could regard the supposedly neutral alternatives as race unconscious,” Ginsburg wrote. 

Universities and public institutions have no need to hide from the “legacy of ‘centuries of law-sanctioned inequality,’” and that race-consciousness is preferable to some backdoor effort to address inequity by concealing the mention of it. And because, Ginsburg pointed out, the University of Texas “flexibly” considers race as but one of many factors in its admissions process, and puts its admissions program up for regular review to determine whether its consideration of race is still a necessary part of its admissions process, its programs are constitutional. 

There’s still a chance for the Supreme Court to dismantle the deeper underpinnings that are holding affirmative action together when the Court revisits the practice in its next term.

Read the Supreme Court opinions, along with Ginsburg’s dissent, here (PDF).

Nick Cannon to Re-Launch Soul Train on NBC

Nick Cannon to Re-Launch Soul Train on NBC

In a recent interview with The Grio at the 2013 American Black Film Festival in Miami, Nick Cannon revealed that he just struck a deal with NBC to bring back the hit variety show “Soul Train.” 

From the Grio:

“One of the things I’m the most excited about, and we’re just now starting to talk about it is the re-launch of Soul Train and that coming back,” Cannon told theGrio’s Chris Witherspoon. “It means so much for our culture. It truly is something that to be able to bring through my deal at NBC Universal is that in itself is kind of taking it to the next level for where the brand began. I’m excited about that.”

When asked if Soul Train would air on NBC, Cannon responded “Yes, that’s the plan.”

TAGS:

Showing Love for Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland: A Cross-Genre Tribute

Showing Love for Bobby 'Blue' Bland: A Cross-Genre Tribute

Bobby “Blue” Bland passed away over the weekend. The singer’s 1974 hit single “Ain’t No Love (In the Heart of the City)” is one of my personal favorites. And it’s also one of the most sampled songs around. Originally released in 1974 on Bland’s hit album “Dreamer”, the song was written by Michael Price and Dan Walsh and landed in the top ten of the R&B charts that year. But the song has been kept alive by artists from across generations.

I’ve gathered up a handful of samples to illustrate how Bland’s voice helped change 20th century American music. From country to reggae to rock and back to R&B, Bland influenced artists from every genre imaginable.

Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland: ‘Ain’t No Love (In the Heart of the City) 1974


Jay-Z: Ain’t No Love (In the Heart of the City) 2001.


Allman Brothers (2009 live recording)


Joe Budden: “No Love Lost.” 2013 (Hip-Hop) 


Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds (1985)


Vaya con Dios (2004)


Al Brown’s reggae remix (mid-1970s)

Here’s Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland With BB King on Soul Train in 1975

Here's Bobby 'Blue' Bland With BB King on Soul Train in 1975

Legendary blues singer Bobby “Blue” Bland passed away on Sunday. Family members told the media that Bland died from complications from a protracted illness and that he was surrounded by family members. He was 83 years old. USA Today remembered the singer as the “Sinatra of the blues.” Here’s a look at the height of his popularity after his 1974 album “Dreamer” on Soul Train.

Watch 11-Year-Old Cellist Prodigy Sujari Britt

Watch 11-Year-Old Cellist Prodigy Sujari Britt

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. 

(H/T Shadow and Act)

TAGS: Kids Music

Supreme Court Issues Big Non-Decision on Affirmative Action

Supreme Court Issues Big Non-Decision on Affirmative Action

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.

Is Paula Deen Just a Product of Her Deep-Fried-Racist Time?

Is Paula Deen Just a Product of Her Deep-Fried-Racist Time?

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?

(H/T Jezebel)

TAGS: Paula Deen

Bill Maher Sorta Defends the ‘Hot Mess’ That Is Paula Deen

Bill Maher Sorta Defends the 'Hot Mess' That Is Paula Deen

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.”

But, as described at the Atlantic Wire:

…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.’”

TAGS: Paula Deen

Let the Aaron Hernandez Prison Rape and Racist Jokes Begin

Let the Aaron Hernandez Prison Rape and Racist Jokes Begin

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. 

NYC Gave Hundreds of High School Graduates Post-It Notes Instead of Diplomas

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.

Read the whole story at the Times.

Paula Deen: ‘Please Excuse Me for the Mistakes I’ve Made’

Paula Deen: 'Please Excuse Me for the Mistakes I've Made'

Paula Deen has apologized for the racist comments she made that came to light earlier this week.

TAGS: Paula Deen

Senate’s Border ‘Surge’ Plays Political Games With Border Lives

Senate's Border 'Surge' Plays Political Games With Border Lives

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.

Does Miley Cyrus Accessorize Her Cool With Black People?

Does Miley Cyrus Accessorize Her Cool With Black People?

Dodai Stewart over at Jezebel thinks so. Take a look at Cyrus’ video and judge for yourself.

TAGS: Miley Cyrus

These Ancient Chinese Herbs Could Help Improve Your Sex Life

These Ancient Chinese Herbs Could Help Improve Your Sex Life

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.

TAGS: Herbs Hyphen Sex
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