Justice Anthony Kennedy, Champion of Equal Rights?

On PBS’s Religious & Ethics NewsWeekly program this morning, a correspondent referred to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as a “champion of equal rights” for gay people. He called Justice Kennedy a “champion” because Kennedy has voted with the majority more than once for gay rights, most recently this week when the Supreme Court declared the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” to be unconstitutional on a 5-4 vote.

Although Kennedy taking a liberal position on this issue is an excellent thing, it’s an exaggeration to refer to him as a “champion of equal rights”. After all, the only reason Kennedy stands out among the 5 justices who declared the law unconstitutional is that he tends to vote against equal rights (and common sense) in so many other cases. The other 4 justices are reliable votes for equal rights, so their votes aren’t newsworthy.

This week, for example, Kennedy joined his benighted right-wing brethren in throwing out the part of the Voting Rights Act that required certain states to get Justice Department approval before tinkering with their electoral laws. The immediate result of this Supreme Court decision is that some of those states (ones whose leaders committed treason in order to defend slavery) have already announced plans to make voting more difficult.

Everyone knows that the purpose of these restrictive voting laws so popular in certain states is to suppress turnout among blacks, Hispanics and the poor (who tend to vote Democratic), not to eliminate voter fraud (which has never been shown to exist to any mathematically significant degree at all).

So in a couple of cases this week, Justice Kennedy voted for equal rights. In a case that was at least equally important, he voted to make it more difficult for people to exercise their right as an American citizen to vote — not their right to vote as the holder of one or more specific forms of identification. People all over the world vote by showing up at the polls and getting their hands stamped. They don’t have to “prove” that they live where they live.

For your consideration: Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, champion of equal rights in a very limited sense.

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