The Supreme Court’s Molotov Cocktail

The Supreme Court’s Molotov Cocktail


With many preoccupied by the holiday season, making ends meet and the clowning of the endless Republican primary debates, few are paying close attention to what’s been happening in the Supreme Court lately.  As if the Court is brewing up a 21st century remake of the Civil War, the august body of lifetime judges have decided to review three of the most volatile cases you could pick to review during a Presidential election year.

It started with the announcement that the High Court (also known affectionately as SCOTUS) would review the Affordable Care Act, a lightning rod law of political animus and controversy since the heated Health Care Reform Wars that, literally, cost Democrats their House majority in 2010.  Derisively picked on by Republicans as “Obamacare” – one of the GOP’s most widely used talking points – the law has been repeatedly poked at by everyone from conservative think tanks and legal experts to state Attorneys General and political candidates looking for an election year base booster.

Many states scoffed at the Constitutionality of the individual mandate inserted in the law, accusing the Obama Administration and the federal government of overstepping bounds.  The Administration barked back and now, after much political wrangling and changing of the guard on Capitol Hill, it’s up to the SCOTUS to cast final judgment.

But, they didn’t stop there.

Along comes the infamous Arizona state immigration law, technically known as “S.B. 1070” for its state legislature designation.  Republican Governor Jan Brewer’s masterpiece of questionable and virtually unenforceable immigration detainment became the cause of a Latino community already under siege from increased deportations.  The law cause a national firestorm over how far authorities could go in seizing illegal immigrants and whether police identification by race was even legal.

After many boycotts, national outrage and Brewer’s face on dart boards, Arizona suffered a huge economic setback from S.B. 1070 and became the poster kid for racism in the United States.

Now, it’s under SCOTUS’ review.

But – wait – there’s more.

Going further down south in the big state of Texas is where current Republican Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), also a fledgling GOP primary candidate, pushed an appeal against a lower court which refused to let the state use state and congressional legislative maps drawn by an even lower court.  While that court found the new Census-driven maps suspiciously drawn to diminish the influence of Black and Latino voters in the Lone Star state, Perry argued that the judges should have kicked it to the state legislature which is, incidentally, dominated by Republicans.

Observers worry that the High Court is taking on politically and emotionally charged cases during an election year that promises to be as hot as the previous Presidential cycle in 2008.  Healthcare, immigration and redistricting also touch on sensitive issues of access, race … and more race.

The healthcare debate is immersed in a murky mix of Constitutional arguments and spicy political hand-to-hand combat, a key issue Republicans plan to use against Democrats, specifically President Obama, in 2012.  How the Court decides on the Affordable Care Act could tip the electoral scales in dramatic fashion.

As could the immigration issue and redistricting.  The Arizona immigration law on one hand placed an uncomfortable law enforcement spotlight on the problem of illegal immigration in the Southwest United States.  But, it also galvanized the awakening of a sleeping Latino political giant that could prove lethal for Republicans – especially depending on which way the legal winds blow on the SCOTUS case.

The Texas redistricting case, one of the few to come before the Court in quite some time, could have the effect of deciding the fate of Black and Latino political power, particularly as populations of color move southward.   SCOTUS’ review of the case is already causing anxiety amongst civil rights advocates, lawyers and many African American politicos worried that this is just one new chance, next to the increasing presence of voter ID laws, for Republicans to undermine minority votes typically leaning Democratic.

All three cases are volatile.  All three have the potential of stirring up conservative and mostly Southern-based Republican constituencies in 2012, in red state ways detrimental to President Obama’s re-election.  And all three appear to exacerbate boiling North versus South electoral tensions that could radically alter the political landscape beyond the elections.

“The North/South divide is always just beneath the surface in American politics. People thought it odd that Bill Clinton, in 1992, selected another southerner, Tennessee’s Al Gore, to be his VP. Rick Perry’s nomination is troubles, aside from his many ‘oops’ moments, but because of reluctance to elect another Texan,” observes Marvin King, a political science professor at the University of Mississippi.

“The problem, from the North’s perspective, is the ascension of the South. It’s growing at a much faster clip and growing in political clout too. The congressional seats lost by Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York invariably end up in Georgia, Texas or North Carolina. Texas is gaining 4 new seats, and while that will make it harder for Democrats to retake the House, it shouldn’t affect the presidential contest.

King argues that while the tensions are there they may not be decisive. Obama could lose the 55 Electoral College votes he won in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia and still win the election. What will be decisive are national issues like the economy, health care reform, and immigration. For instance, while Americans want a strong border they don’t prefer the antics of Sheriff Joe Arpaio or the explicit discrimination of Alabama’s anti-immigration efforts.

And whatever the Supreme Court ruling, it’s a national issue, not a sectional one, argues King.

”If the perilous economy and the ponderously improving unemployment and numerous foreign policy concerns weren’t enough two potential decisions by the US Supreme Court could heavily impact next year’s presidential election,” says Peter Groff, the first Black President of the Colorado State Senate and currently a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University. “The Court decrees on the Affordable Care Act and Arizona’s immigration law makes the Court a player in 2012 in a way that should make the Court, which claims to be uncolored by society and politics, very uncomfortable.  Some think the discomfort of the Court will result in Republican pleasure in 2012.”

“However, the GOP better be careful what it hopes for because I think the President wins either way politically. The White House has embraced the inevitable court challenge and has said from the very beginning the new law will pass constitutional muster. An affirmation by the Court punctures the constitutional argument against health care and clears the way for full implementation and also wipes it off the politically table,” adds Groff.


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