As is the case each late June/early July, we wait for the Supreme Court of the United States to issue decisions, before starting a well-deserved recess and ending another term. This year is no different. Whether young, old, or in between, we hurry up and wait for the Court to reconcile the law on matters that will impact the lives of many. Within the next few weeks, or perhaps days, rulings on cases related to marriage equality (Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor), voting rights (Shelby County v. Holder), and affirmative action (Fisher v. University of Texas) will prosper or perish based on the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.
As a block, the cases speak to a series of amendments to the Constitution of the United States related to our civil rights:
• 13th Amendment abolished slavery. It was approved by the 38th Congress (1863–1865) and ratified by the states on December 6, 1865. Thanks to the movie “Lincoln”, Mississippi “officially” ratified the amendment in February 2013.
• 14th Amendment provides equal protection for all citizens by prohibiting states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws and requires that states treat an individual in the same manner as others in similar conditions and circumstances. It was approved by the 39th Congress (1865–1867) and ratified by the states on July 9, 1868.
• 15th Amendment addressed voting rights and forbade any state from depriving a citizen of his vote because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. It was approved by the 40th Congress (1867–1869) and ratified by the states on February 3, 1870.
It is undisputed that the American Civil War of the 1860s, and the Civil Rights Movement that erupted in the 1960s, precipitated passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Although the nine members of today’s U.S. Supreme Court might not be able to provide first-hand accounts of the Civil War, each member would likely be able to offer personal and vivid anecdotes of his or her life experiences during the Civil Rights Movement. And whether the anecdotes are offered by the conservative leaning justices or the more liberal members, a person must ask, “What’s in the air our Justices’ use to sustain our living constitution”?
According to the Court’s demographics, there are six male justices (Alito, Breyer, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas), and three female justices (Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor). One justice is African American, one is Latino, and two are Italian-Americans; six justices are Roman Catholics, and three are Jewish. The average age is 67 years, 6 months, and every current justice has an Ivy League background. Four justices are from the state of New York, two from New Jersey, two from California, and one from Georgia.
According to U.S. Census Data, females comprised more than half of the U.S. population, Whites comprised 78.1% of the population, African-Americans comprised 13.1% of the population, persons of Hispanic or Latino origin comprised 16.7% of the population, 28.2% of the population held a Bachelor’s degree or higher; and the U.S. population continues to grow older with a median age over 40 years old in many states.
What remains to be seen is whether the Supreme Court of the United States will fashion its decisions for an ever-changing population, that has little first-hand context for the human sacrifice and struggles supporting the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. The task for the Court is to breathe life into a 225 years old document in a way that provides equal protection of our laws. The task for We the People of the United States is to never forget the lives lost, dreams deferred, and constant struggle to protect the rights enumerated in our living, breathing Constitution.