In the midst of everything else happening in the world right now, there is something that I think might be slipping beneath the radar a bit except by those people that truly pay attention to these types of things, as well as the people that just want to point to them as an indicator of their political agenda.
In the last month, there have been four incidents that prove that the checks and balances written into our constitution have worked, with the judicial branch stepping in and deeming certain laws unconstitutional. In a couple of cases, these laws were passed by a popular vote among the citizens of the respective state, and even though they “overwhelmingly” passed, it is still against the U.S. Constitution to discriminate against people, even if it is the majority opinion. A democracy works best when the minority is protected, and sometimes it takes the courts to do this protecting.
It all started back on December 20th, when U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby overturned Amendment 3 in my home state of Utah. I’ve already written about this on a couple of occasions already, so I won’t add anything else right now, but it was the first domino to fall in an interesting couple of weeks.
A week ago today, District Judge Terence C. Kern ruled Oklahoma’s similar constitutional amendment unconstitutional according to federal law as well, agreeing with the plaintiffs in that case that the amendment was “an arbitrary (and) irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit.” Both states sought and have subsequently received stays on having to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but you can feel the tide shifting on this particular matter.
Not to be outdone, Judge Bernard L. McGinley in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania deemed that state’s voter ID law unconstitutional, another victory for people that feel that citizens should have the right to vote. The case now goes to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, so we will ultimately see what comes of the law in the long run, but you can count this as another victory for progressives in the country.
Finally, another federal judge overturned a North Carolina law that required women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound first, then have the image described to them. The law was intended to promote childbirth, hoping that being shown the ultrasound and having the unborn child described would somehow convince the woman to keep the baby, regardless of her situation. District Judge Catherine Eagles said in her ruling: “The Supreme Court has never held that a state has the power to compel a health care provider to speak, in his or her own voice, the state’s ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term and this court declines to do so today.”
This law was specifically about abortion, but had it been able to stand, it could have led to even more oppressive laws installed by state legislatures — which tend to be mostly male — regarding women’s bodies and the choices that they make. Regardless of how one feels about abortion, I don’t think anyone wants to allow the state to dictate certain choices regarding their bodies.
With our country’s legislative branch really bad at getting things accomplished lately, maybe it is time for some judges to start getting things done in this country. Some will decry the actions of these judges as “legislating from the bench,” but I would argue that they are simply doing what is required of them by the Constitution. Had the legislatures actually passed non-discriminatory laws, the courts wouldn’t have had to get involved. If anything, actions like this should encourage the state legislatures to do the right thing, though changing ideology is something that won’t happen overnight.
Until next time…