This article was written in collaboration with Meidema Sanchez, Associate News Editor.
During an event, on Feb. 6, brought to campus by the Quality of Student Life Committee, Adam Liptak, the Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times, spoke about the changes he has seen take place in the Court throughout his years as a correspondent and a few cases that deal with some of the most divisive issues the Court is grappling with today: race and same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court today is more diverse than ever before. “For the first time in history, there are three women on the Court. It was not long ago that Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman on the Court,” Liptak said. He also noted the increased racial diversity on the Court provided by Sonia Sotameyer, its first Hispanic judge. However, Liptak said that while the Court is more diverse in certain ways, it is also more undiverse than ever before in others. For the first time in history, none of the judges have run for public office, and all have attended either Harvard or Yale Law School. He said that the homogeneity of the Court may pose certain problems. “Maybe they are a bit out of touch with the average person,” Liptak said.
Liptak then went on to explain issues of race as they pertain to the Court. In Fisher v. University of Texas, a case currently before the Court, the Court has to decide whether students should be classified on the basis of race. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court has to decide whether or not Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 5 maintains that the federal government must approve any changes to state voting procedures. The South maintains that it is no longer needed like it was before.
In terms of same-sex marriage, Liptak said, “Same-sex marriage is something the people care about deeply.” However, it is an issue the Court is tackling because although U.S. citizens care a lot about same-sex marriage there seems to be little consensus among them regarding the issue.
In the case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, filed in 2009, it is argued that California’s voters had violated the federal Constitution when they overrode a decision of the state’s Supreme Court allowing same-sex marriages. The voter initiative in California was known as Proposition 8. In United States v. Windsor, the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 is challenged. Section 3 of the law defines marriage as between only a man and a woman for the purposes of more than 1,000 federal laws and programs.
Liptak said he speculates that the Court may make a decision that allows gay (same-sex) couples in states where same-sex marriage is legal have federal benefits and detriments as well, like higher taxes. He said it would be “wrenching” for the Court to rule that the federal Constitution say same-sex marriage should be allowed.
When it comes to both race and same-sex marriage, Liptak said, “This Court is interested in equality,” and it is the principle of equality that may harmonize its decisions.
Matthew Taylor, president of Quality of Student Life Committee, said that his group chose to bring Liptak to campus because he is an intelligent speaker that who is knowledgeable about issues pertinent to college students. The group managed to bring such a distinguished speaker to campus because they are in charge of ordering the copies of the New York Times that get delivered to BC and hence have a relationship with the paper. They hope to have similar events once or twice per semester in the future.