To move the country closer to the values outlined in the 14th Amendment that was ratified in 1868 in one area, the Supreme Court moved the nation back to 1963 in another.
The court ruled, by a vote of 5-4 that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. It ruled that denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married discriminates against them.
The court also voted 5-4 on procedural grounds to effectively strike down Proposition 8, California's voter-approved ban on gay marriage.
These decisions are consistent with the spirit of the 14th Amendment.
But that wonderful step was offset by the court's tragic impulses to move the nation backward. In another 5-4 decision, the court invalidated a key section of the Voting Rights Act.
This decision is best summarized by the dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: "The court's opinion can hardly be described as an exemplar of restrained and moderate decision making. Quite the opposite. Hubris is a fit word for today's demolition of the VRA."
Congress has renewed the Voting Rights Act four times -- most recently in 2006 by an overwhelming 390-33 vote in the House and a 98-0 vote in the Senate. But Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the majority opinion, argued that "our country has changed." He felt that change was particularly evident in the Southern jurisdictions covered by the Voting Rights Act.
For 48 years, the Voting Rights Act as been in place, but the dim illumination of the Roberts court believes it has outlived its usefulness. How is this not the toxins of judicial activism, legislating from the bench, or any of the other right-wing talking points designed to purge liberal orthodoxy?
If by change Roberts is suggesting the days of Bull Connor, George Wallace, along with those who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four little girls, are no more, he's right. But to suggest the Voting Rights Act is passé, he's dreadfully wrong.
On the heels of the ruling, officials in Texas, North Carolina and Mississippi already have signaled that they would move to pass laws demanding voter identification cards. Florida is contemplating changing its hours for early voting.
The re-election of President Barack Obama was reflected, in part, by the nation's changing demographics. In 2023, America is projected to be a majority minority nation. The voter suppression tactics, invalidated in 2012, are now granted a new lease on life.
The efforts in cities such as Birmingham, Selma, Ala., and Albany, Ga., are relegated to civil rights antiquity in the court's mind. Poll taxes and literacy tests of the Jim Crow era can now be legally upgraded by more sophisticated methods.
Moreover, it is those on society's margin who will be the most likely victim's of any legalized voter suppression.
The Roberts court also is proving to be a paradoxical lot. The right-leaning court, which voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act, last week struck down an important plank in the Voting Rights Act, said DOMA was unconstitutional, and that those who brought Proposition 8 had no standing.
But the cheers for marriage equality have been somewhat subdued by those already stung by the Voting Rights Act decision the day prior.
Last week's rulings have filled me with conflicting emotions. I applaud the trajectory that is moving the nation toward full marriage equality, which makes America better. But I lament that the court saw fit to move the justice clock back 50 years.
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.