Whether viewed from an executive, legislative or judicial perspective, America faces some very critical decisions in the coming weeks.
In two instances–the executive and the legislative–the outcomes rest with the voters. The third belongs to the nine or, in some cases, eight Supreme Court justices.
The first critical moments, particularly for African-Americans, begin on Oct. 10, when the court will hear Fisher v. University of Texas on the issue of affirmative action. In this case, the plaintiff is Abigail Fisher, a white female applicant to the University of Texas who claims she was denied admission because of her race.
Nearly a decade ago, many believed the court had settled this issue with a majority decision, 5-4, written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who retired in 2006. However, since her retirement, the court has undergone some dramatic changes, none more pivotal than the appointment of Justice Samuel A. Alito, who replaced O’Connor, and the emergence of John Roberts as chief justice.
A reversal of Grutter V. Bollinger appears to be likely given that Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented six years ago, and Roberts and Alito have expressed no interest in supporting race-based decisions by the government.
Even so, nothing is certain since Roberts stunned the nation when he sided with his colleagues in support of Obama’s health care bill, though that may have been his way of giving a little something to take it back later, as with these three issues before the court.
The outcome of their decisions will have wide-ranging effects on how affirmative action is handled in higher education. At the University of Texas, like many institutions, admission is almost guaranteed for the top 10 percent of high school graduates, and only insofar as a number of the high schools are predominantly Black will there be any continuing indication of diversity at such schools.
African-Americans will also be closely watching the court’s verdicts on gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The court will decide whether to hear a case filed by a same-sex couple seeking to establish a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Currently, the state only allows commitments from same-sex couples.
Three years ago, the court appeared reluctant to support parts of the historic Voting Rights Act that required review of changes in parts of the country with a history of discrimination, mainly in the South. In those instances where redistricting may have been instituted, no change could be made by those regions that have historically discriminated against certain voters unless approved by the Justice Department.
Like the presidential race and a few senatorial contests, the decisions rendered by the court could have dramatic consequences.