Justice Ginsburg: Ferguson exposes lingering racial tensions the Supreme Court has ignored
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in an interview published Friday that the United States has a “real racial problem” that won’t get any better as long as the way that whites and people of color work and live and get educated “remains divided.”
The 81-year-old justice spoke to Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal about her disappointment in the lack of racial progress in the U.S. and that the Court — which was “once a leader in the world at rooting out racial injustice” — struck down key tenets of the Voting Rights Act last year.
“What’s amazing is how things have changed,” she said.
The court pioneered a realistic understanding of what 1971’s Warren Burger-led court called the “disparate impact” of laws that disproportionately affect minorities. In the U.S., the court said, racial minorities face “built-in headwinds” on the road to progress.
“It was a very influential decision and it was picked up in England,” Ginsburg told Coyle. “That’s where the court was heading in the 70s.”
Six years earlier, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had established a bulwark against the systematic voter suppression of racial minorities in southern states. In 2013, the John Roberts-led Court effectively dismantled key provisions of the Act.
Ian Millhiser at Think Progress wrote, “Two hours after Roberts claimed that racism was too minor a problem to justify leaving America’s most important voting rights law intact, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that Roberts’ decision would allow a gerrymandered map and a recently enacted voter ID to go into effect. Federal courts had previously blocked both the map and the voting restriction because of their negative impact on minority voters. Alabama made a similar announcement about its voter ID law the same day Roberts handed down his decision. Less than two months later, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) signed a comprehensive voter suppression law adopting many provisions that reduced minority turnout in other states.”
The violent clashes between protesters and police in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City’s controversial “Stop and Frisk” policy, Ginsburg said, show how racial issues in the U.S. are currently lagging behind LGBT rights and same-sex marriage, which have gone in her 20 years on the bench from being all but unmentionable to an all but foregone conclusion.
The issue, she said, is visibility.
“Once [gay] people began to say who they were, you found that it was your next-door neighbor or it could be your child, and we found people we admired,” she said. “That understanding still doesn’t exist with race; you still have separation of neighborhoods, where the races are not mixed. It’s the familiarity with people who are gay that still doesn’t exist for race and will remain that way for a long time as long as where we live remains divided.”
[image of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg via Wake Forest University’s Flickr photostream, Creative Commons licensed]