Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has some harsh words for the direction the Supreme Court has taken. In an interview with The National Law Journal, she indicated a belief that, where the Court was once a bastion of opposition against racial discrimination, it has now worked to erase that image through a series of regressive rulings.
Those include upholding bans on affirmative action policies, striking down part of the Voting Rights Act, and upholding laws that restrict voting access.
The voting laws, especially, affect minorities in a disproportionate way, because they disproportionately affect the poor, and the poor are made up of a disproportionate number of minorities. In the interview, Ginsburg pointed to Griggs v. Duke Power as evidence that the high court once did uphold anti-discrimination policies.
Griggs v. Duke Power is a good example of how a policy can appear neutral on paper, but becomes discriminatory in practice. The term for that is “disparate impact,” and is a powerful legal tool that conservatives, both in and out of the Supreme Court, would like to see gone.
One thing that stood out in Ginsburg’s interview was her comparison to the fight for LGBT rights. She said:
“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. 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.”
Chicago is one city that remains badly segregated. St. Louis is another. The Chicago Sun-Times constructed a map of Chicago neighborhoods based on their diversity, after discovering an article in The Atlantic saying that black people and white people don’t even live in the same city. The Sun-Times found that Chicago’s most homogenous neighborhoods are predominantly black, and they also have higher rates of poverty and crime than other neighborhoods.
In St. Louis, over the last several decades, whites have moved out into the suburbs, leaving blacks and other minorities in the city. “White flight” is a phenomenon that happened in most of the major cities, and is a contributing factor to the problems inside the inner cities at this point.
However, Business Insider reports that part of what happens in St. Louis is that as black residents move into certain neighborhoods, white residents tend to move out. They don’t say anything about why that occurs, but it does contribute to racial tensions.
While it would be extremely difficult to create policies that would end the segregation we see in cities like St. Louis and Chicago, court rulings like the ones Ginsburg disagrees with reinforce the false idea that we’re a post-racial nation, and that laws safeguarding minorities against racism are no longer necessary.
In doing that, the court is furthering the notion that blacks are now responsible for their lot in life, rather than the seriously complicated, but very real problem of institutionalized racism. Justice Ginsburg has brought out a very real concern.