Today's Supreme Court Decisions: Voting Rights, Baby Girl

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court (Justin DC/flickr)

The Supreme Court has ruled in several key cases today:

  • Most notably, the court has struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets the formula that determines whether certain parts of the country with a history of racial discrimination need to get federal "preclearance" before enacting voting changes. It is now up to Congress to develop a new formula, which has existed since the 1960s.
  • In the case of "Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl" the court rules in favor of the adoptive parents, and that the Indian Child Welfare Act does not provide enough legal standing for the biological father to claim custody.

Slate's Emily Bazelon discusses the rulings. And Tim Howard of Radiolab -- who reported on "Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl" -- explains that ruling.

Get Up To Speed on the Key Decisions: Our SCOTUS Reading List

Still to Be Decided

  • The Same-Sex Marriage Cases:
    -- Hollingsworth vs. Perrry: Challenges Prop. 8, which amended the California state constitution to allow only opposite-sex couples to marry.
    -- Windsor vs. United States: Challenges the federal definition that marriage — and the associated benefits — is between a man and a woman.

    USA Today Primer | WNYC BreakdownUnited States v. Windsor (Scotus Blog) | Holligsworth v. Perry (Scotus Blog)

  • The Voting Rights Act Case:
    On Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which mandates that certain parts of the country get “preclearance” from the federal government before making election law changes.
    Primer from The Root | Heritage's Shelby 101Shelby County v. Holder (Scotus Blog)

  • The Indian Adoption Case
    On whether an unwed biological father, who initially renounced his custodial rights to his daughter, can rely on a federal law – the Indian Child Welfare Act – to block her adoption by the couple who had cared for her since birth.
    Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (Scotus Blog) | "Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl" (Radiolab)

Already Decided

  • The Workplace Discrimination Case (Decided Monday)
  • Court issues a pro-business decision that claims workplace discrimination under Title VII of the voting rights act only counts in cases where a supervisor has hiring and firing power over an employee.
    Vance Opinion (PDF) | Analysis from Geoffrey Stone | NPR Recap | SCOTUSBlog Info


Emily Bazelon

Comments [20]

Elmer from New York

I love pub radio, too, despite the structural limitation. But intellectual/moral solutions (re “code switch” suggestion) usually fall short, especially with people who rely on cultural/intellectual enlightenment as a marker. Frederick Douglass' note on power applies to all of us, no matter how many degrees. Alternatives? I think there's a lot more about the wider US (incl. abt marginalized peoples of all colors) from BBC, FT. Compare to our outlets and you will see more comprehensive coverage of perspectives - emanating from just getting different voices, geographies, and faces behind the news. I'm not talking culture as much as general awareness. That's the real failure – not one of cultural understanding, but of journalism.

Jun. 25 2013 05:14 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Elmer, thanks very much for that insight. So true. I love NPR, but I've observed the phenomenon many times. I was hoping 'Code Switch' would address or mitigate this in some way, but have found their work lacking. I've inquired with them about this, but to no avail.

Jun. 25 2013 04:30 PM
Elmer from New York

fuva from harlemworld. Interesting point on the giddiness of the Slate correspondent. I noticed that and it made it difficult to understand what she was trying to communicate. I understand dispassionate journalism, but in our current polarities, the sober (not to be read as: somber) journalist is rare. Left or Right - reporters intimate their cultural/political leaning by what they emphasize and how in voice, body, editorial choices. This is the cultural nature of media, her tone able to land without much notices from the staff and audience who will most likely share her culture (not a eupehemism for race: I mean, "culture"). In this case, the case the culture of those NOT affected by a momentous supreme court moment is evident. I didn't hear a single giddy reporter during Hurricane Sandy. We come together in one culture in gross tragedy, for the most part. It's not a bad thing that public radio is culturally homogeneous as the quality and insight is good, if, still, in fact limited by culutral perspective.

Jun. 25 2013 04:20 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Excellent Brian. This futile attempt to fix race-created problems in "race-neutral" ways is all about the denial of ongoing race terror effects, which is racist. Emily so cavalierly resigning herself to these effects "not going away anytime soon" is troubling to me.

Jun. 25 2013 03:22 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Excellent Brian. This futile attempt to fix race-created problems in "race-neutral" ways is all about the denial of ongoing race terror effects, which is racist. Emily so cavalierly resigning herself to these effects "not going away anytime soon" is troubling to me.

Jun. 25 2013 03:22 PM

I recommend you listen to Radiolab's coverage of the Adoptive Couple vs Baby Girl case. It's not as clear as the short description makes out and I think SCOTUS made the wrong decision here.

Jun. 25 2013 03:19 PM
Jenn Gapetz from Manhattan

It is unfortunate that the segment about the Baby Veronica case did not mention how the Indian Child Welfare Act works. When parents does not have custody, then the placing agency is suppose to attempt to put the child with a relative, if a relative is unavailable or unfit, then the child is suppose to be placed within the tribe, if no one in the tribe is available, then placed with another American Indian family. After all those steps are exhausted, then the child may be placed with a non-Indian family. There are over 300,000 Cherokee citizens and our government has an agency that oversees the adoption of Cherokee children (

Jun. 25 2013 01:38 PM
Denice Cannon from Great Neck, NY

Listeners interested in the Supreme Court decision "Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl" may enjoy reading Barbara Kingsolver's fictional books "The Bean Trees" and "Pigs in Heaven" for other perspectives.

Jun. 25 2013 12:43 PM
LL from UWS

BBC News Online Headline goes there:

"US court quashes voting law clause

The US Supreme Court overturns a key part of a landmark civil rights-era electoral law designed to protect minority voters."

Jun. 25 2013 12:05 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Voluntarily giving up a child speaks for itself in more ways than one. The original act indicates that one is not interested in having, raising, loving or caring for that child.

Changing one's mind about that child, while it may seem well-intentioned, means that there are possible other changes in the wind. What happens if the child is given back to the biological parent(s), who later decides once again that s/he is not interested in the child, or who cannot for one reason or another raise and take responsibility for that child?

Ultimately, the best interests of the child should be the deciding factor. Children need to be loved and nurtured. The parents who gave up the child are already screwed up; don't let them screw up the child as well.

Down the line, if the child seeks to learn of his/her origins, then the biological parents may come forward and the relationship of all the consenting adults can then be negotiated.

Jun. 25 2013 12:01 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Similar to what happened in Australia and Canada - chilling!!!

Jun. 25 2013 11:57 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

Does this adoption case answer the question, "why did you do an international adoption?"

It's high time we really worry about the children first (and not just pay lip service). Quite frequently, children are NOT better off with their biological families.

Jun. 25 2013 11:54 AM
Jenn Gapetz from Manhattan

An open letter to the media:

Baby Veronica is Cherokee. Whether her father wanted custody or not is irrelevant. Every American Indian tribe sets their own requirement for how to become a citizen. Some tribes have narrow requirements (such as blood quantum) to become a citizen. It is possible a person does not meet tribal requirements but can meet the Bureau of Indian Affairs requirements in order to be recognized. Baby Veronica is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma because, like all citizens of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, her family lineage is traceable and dates to the Dawes Rolls. (The Dawes Rolls is a census of sorts ordered by the U.S. Congress in 1893.) Present-day citizenship is not based on blood quantum, race, geographic location, or anything else, but in having a document-able relative on the Dawes. Like Americans in general, there are Cherokees of all “races,” and are diverse in culture and appearance. (As an aside, there are also an uncountable number of people who are Cherokee but are not recognized by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma because their relatives did not report themselves on the Dawes Rolls, for many reasons.) Regardless of who she is raised by, Baby Veronica is Cherokee. Even if the adoption attorney did not do his job, Baby Veronica is Cherokee. Even if her adoptive parents do not raise her as Cherokee, Baby Veronica is Cherokee. Even if the Supreme Court rules the Indian Child Welfare Act does not apply to her, Baby Veronica is Cherokee.

Thank you,

Jennifer Gapetz

Jun. 25 2013 11:49 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

That's the way it should be: Affirmative action's mission can mostly be obtained with economic and geographic factors being considered.

Jun. 25 2013 11:47 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Under-represented voters!!???
We just learned that African-American voters were OVER-REPRESENTED IN 2012.


Jun. 25 2013 11:46 AM

Thanks Emily B for explaining it; excuse my lengthy post.

Jun. 25 2013 11:45 AM

You say you can't figure out what a race-neutral affirmative action policy would be. An example would be Texas' policy of granting admission to the top ten percent of students per school. It doesn't refer to race explicitly, but because of residence patterns and school populations, the effect is to increase diversity.

Jun. 25 2013 11:44 AM

Your guest should not guess about serious issues like voting rights. Section 5 does not cover Staten Island; it covers parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Please be careful to report correctly. Thank you.

Jun. 25 2013 11:43 AM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

Throwing any section of the Voting Rights Act back to Congress to take action is kind of oxymoronic and, in my opinion, tantamount to a repeal.

If you are Progressive, you need to make up your mind TODAY that we need to be enthusiastic in our support and our turnout for ALL ELECTIONS through 2020.

Jun. 25 2013 11:42 AM
rai from ny, ny

As more decisions are handed down by the Roberts court, the more I am convinced that, given half a chance, the conservative majority would reinstate Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson, with Clarence Thomas writing the majority opinions.

Jun. 25 2013 11:00 AM

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