Last week the Supreme Court upheld President Obama's health care initiative, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). This is fantastic news for the Black Americans. We are twice as likely as whites to be uninsured, we have more than double the rate of infant mortality, we face more than twice the rate of diabetes-related deaths than whites — and the list goes on. The national health care plan will bring down health insurance premiums across the board as well as ban exclusions for pre-existing conditions. The law will make health care access attainable for the estimated 48 million Americans — and 7 million Black Americans — without health insurance.
What has been overlooked by much of the coverage of the ruling is the Court's decision to restrict the federal government's ability to enforce the Medicaid expansion. Medicaid is run by the states but funded jointly by the federal and state governement. PPACA, as it was passed by Congress, would have imposed a harsh penalty on states that did not expand Medicaid to 133% of the federal poverty line. The Court ruled that the federal government could not cut the states' existing Medicaid funds if they do not comply. Several Republican Governors have already said they will not implement the Medicaid expanision. According to a recent Colorlines piece:
"Enlargement of Medicaid is the single most important provision of the Affordable Care Act for people of color.....If implemented as written, the law expected to cover 32 million Americans.....Half of the 32 million are to be brought into the system through Medicaid, and three out of four of those individuals are people of color."
Obama appointees Justices Sotomayor and Kagan provided 2 of the 5 votes needed to sustain the law — clearly demonstrating that who's in the White House can determine the direction of the Court. Last Thursday's ruling is great news — but it follows a week of highly political decisions which have particular importance for the ColorOfChange community and Black America as a whole. These rulings include troubling decisions on Arizona's controversial immigration law SB1070 and Montana's anti-corruption laws. The current Court is the among the oldest since the New Deal era. With multiple retirements looming, the next President will play a significant role in shaping the future of the Supreme Court and, by extension, the policies that dictate how we live.
In Arizona v United States, the Court struck down most of SB1070, but kept in place Arizona's racial profiling policy. Americans of all races and ethnicities — especially Black Americans — know the harm that racial profiling has caused this country. Racial profiling is wrong, period. It's shameful that in 2012 the Supreme Court has upheld a law that will compel police to treat an entire community of people as potential criminals. SB1070 is an attack on all of our civil rights, and it sets back the progress African Americans and other communities of color have made in overcoming discrimination and inequality, and in securing equal treatment under the law.
In the Montana case, the Court refused to revisit Citizens United, which held that money is political speech. That means corporations can spend as much as they want to influence our elections. Instead, without hearing arguments, the Court struck down a 100-year-old Montana law that was passed by statewide referendum in response to widespread corruption in the Montana state government at the beginning of the last century.
The ColorOfChange community knows well the disastrous consequences of corporate control of our government. In late 2011, we began a campaign against a policy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is funded by major corporations and has pushed discriminatory voter ID legislation. Voter ID laws are undemocratic, unjust and part of a longstanding right-wing agenda to weaken the Black vote. To date, 20 companies have announced that they've left ALEC since ColorOfChange launched its campaign. The Court's ruling on Montana shows that we'll need to keep leveraging the buying power of everyday Americans to hold corporations accountable, since we can't count on the justice system to halt the growing influence corporations have over our political system.
These rulings demonstrate the tremendous power the Supreme Court wields. The next President may appoint as many as three new justices with four of the current members more than 75 years old. The Court also plans to taeasel.lyke up issues extremely important to the Black community in the Fall. As federal authority was the main issue of this term, race will be the issue of the next term.
Voting rights of Black folks are likely to come under attack by the Court. As an attorney for the Reagan Administration, Chief Justice John Roberts opposed strong enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. When the next term begins in October, the Court is expected to hear a case from Alabama challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal approval of voting law changes in areas with a history of suppressing Black voters. But federal protection is needed now more than ever.
A 2006 report by the National Commission on the Voting Rights Act found evidence of continued widespread voter discrimination. Across the country, and particularly in the South, ideologues are waging a war on voting rights. In a galling move, the Texas GOP recently called for repeal of the Voting Rights Act in their platform.
In addition to voting rights challenges, the Court will likely hear arguments in a challenge to the University of Texas' affirmative action policy, which could affect college admission for millions of Black students. When Texas last banned affirmative action in 1996, African-American enrollment fell 88% at the University of Texas Law School the following year. It is strange that the Court will revisit the issue just six years after the University of Michigan ruling, which stated that affirmative action would not need review for 30 years.
What all of these complex and important decisions point to is the need to register and vote this November. The next president could reshape the Supreme Court for decades to come. It is important that we ensure justices are appointed who will uphold the civil rights of all Americans.