‘New America’ prevails in U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decisions

Free Press wire reports | 7/7/2015, 10:42 a.m. | Updated on 7/7/2015, 10:42 a.m.
Old America largely conceded to New America in the latest round of major U.S. Supreme Court decisions. New America is …
Ikeita Cantu, left, and wife Carmen Guzman celebrate outside of the Supreme Court in Washington after a 5-4 majority ruled last Friday that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Photo by Associated Press Associated Press

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act cheer the 6-3 decision last Thursday that upheld the crucial subsidies in President Obama’s health care law that makes health insurance affordable for millions of Americans.

Jacquelyn Martin

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act cheer the 6-3 decision last Thursday that upheld the crucial subsidies in President Obama’s health care law that makes health insurance affordable for millions of Americans.

Old America largely conceded to New America in the latest round of major U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

New America is the coalition that came to power with President Obama in 2008 and gave him the winning majority. It’s a coalition of groups marginalized for most of U.S. history: African-Americans, Latinos, religious minorities, young people, gays, single mothers, working women and Americans who claim no religious affiliation.

What holds the coalition together is a commitment to diversity and inclusion — precisely the values the nation’s highest court affirmed when it upheld President Obama’s signature health care law on Thursday and affirmed constitutional support for same-sex marriages on Friday.

The high-stakes health care ruling is a clear example. That ruling prevented upheaval in the insurance market and protected the huge changes in health coverage the president’s Affordable Care Act has ushered in, including ensuring that Americans cannot be denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions and eliminating lifetime caps on coverage.

Throwing out Obamacare proved impossible for the court, including two of the justices considered conservative.

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority in a sentence that outraged Old America foes. “If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

To President Obama and his supporters, the chief justice got it right in his New America opinion.

After the court upheld federal subsidies that enable lower-income Americans to afford health insurance in every state, President Obama said, “We finally declared that, in America, health care is not a privilege for a few but a right for all.”

That’s inclusion.

So is the 5-4 ruling upholding same-sex marriage in all 50 states and U.S. territories.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is trying to rally the New America behind her candidacy for president, tweeted the word “HISTORY” in rainbow colors last week to signify support for the new paradigm in America, where a broad majority no longer view marriage as solely between one man and one woman.

New America also seemed to be in the forefront in several of the high court’s other decisions of the past few days, including a 5-4 ruling that will allow civil rights groups and the government to employ statistical data to challenge segregation and racism in new housing developments.

Old America still has teeth, though. In a 5-4 decision, the court handed big business polluters and their Republican allies a huge victory in at least temporarily derailing President Obama’s efforts to regulate coal-fired power plants that spew poisonous mercury and arsenic into the air.

The court said the rules, which would force numerous coal-fired electrical generating plants to be shut down, need to be rewritten to address the costs of the regulation, a warning sign that the president’s efforts to address global warming could face a hostile court.

The Old America protests against the court’s New America decisions resounded loudly, ensuring more litigation and showing that the decisions may not be the final word, no matter how cast in concrete they seem to be.

Justice Antonin Scalia offered this scathing dissent in the same-sex marriage case: “If I ever joined an opinion for the court that began: ‘The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons . . . to define and express their identity,’ I would hide my head in a bag.”

He was expressing contempt for identity politics, which lie at the core of the New America coalition.

The Supreme Court always has been a lagging indicator of political change. It was designed that way. Supreme Court justices serve for life after being nominated by presidents and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

They will never face popular election, and they can’t be recalled. That’s supposed to protect them from popular pressure.

Still, politics does seem to play a role.

At this point, five justices were chosen by Republican presidents and four by Democratic presidents. The Democratic justices picked up one Republican vote on the same-sex marriage decision — Justice Anthony Kennedy — and two Republican votes on the health care decision — Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts. With those rulings, the Republican-majority court granted legitimacy to New America.

The decisions are being met with resistance, of course. That’s always the case with controversial Supreme Court decisions, such as racial integration of public schools in 1954 and abortion in 1973.

The reality is that New America can only savor the favorable court rulings for only so long.

Old America could bounce back next year. For example, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider again whether to wipe out affirmative action inclusion policies that create diversity on college campuses.

And the court also plans to consider whether public employee labor unions, a key element of the New America coalition but an anathema to Old America, can require government workers to pay dues, even if they oppose unions.

And despite the president’s statement, Obamacare still could be wiped out. That health insurance program was granted by Congress and the president, and it could be taken away by the Congress and the next president. It just won’t happen while President Obama is in office.

Resistance to the same-sex marriage ruling is expected to be more difficult because the court did declare it a constitutional right.

However, that hasn’t kept foes from chipping away voting rights and abortion rights. That same chipping away could happen on gay marriage.

The court’s ruling on marriage did not grant gay people protection from discrimination in housing, employment and other areas of life, allowing opposition governments and businesses to erect other barriers to inclusion to show their displeasure.

Several states already have passed laws allowing public officials to refuse to authorize same-sex marriages if it offends their religious convictions. Some have passed laws allowing businesses to refuse services to gay couples on the same grounds. That is definitely discrimination. But it will take more legal and legislative battles to change that.

The old saying comes to mind if New America is to prevail: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”