There are times when our legal system just doesn’t make any sense. Part of this confusion comes from my ignorance of the complex legal language, and partially because of the official rulings handed down from the bench. In a two week period this summer, three rulings came down from the bench that are making me scratch my head in confusion. These three rulings came from two courts: the Nevada State Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.
First, we need a little background information on the Nevada case, Governor v. Nevada State Legislature . Back in 1996 the people passed an initiative amending the Nevada Constitution stating the Nevada legislature may only pass a tax hike with a two-thirds majority of both houses rather than the previous requirement of just a simple majority. This year the Nevada budget was passed with the simple majority needed for such a bill even though not a single Republican voted for it. The crisis arrived when the bill for hiking taxes to pay for the large budget didn’t pass with the two-thirds necessary. In this type of situation, reasonable people sit down and hammer out a compromise. Dan Burdish, Chairman of Nevadans for Tax Restraint summed up what happened with an open letter to Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins: “Your idea of compromise is for anyone who does not agree with you to relent and agree with whatever dollar amount you want. That is not compromise, it is capitulation.”
So Nevada was stuck. It has the constitutional responsibility to fund education, but it also has the constitutional mandate of passing tax hikes with a two-thirds majority of the legislators. Rather than working this out, this was taken to the Nevada State Court. The Nevada Supreme Court should have tossed the responsibility right back to the Legislature to fix their problem and stay within the requirements of their State Constitution. Treasury Secretary John Snow has identified the root problem in a different venue that fits here, “We don’t have a revenue problem. The government gets plenty of revenue. What’s wrong is that the government spends too much money.” Rather than turning the issue back to the Legislature to fix, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional requirement to fund education was more important than the constitutional two-thirds majority rule. So with that decision, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that it was just acceptable to ignore parts of the State Constitution. In fact, they ruled that the Legislators must ignore that part of their Constitution. So with the bang of a judicial gavel they invalidated the will of the people who voted in this change to the Nevada State Constitution. It is the height of judicial arrogance to pass judgment on the Constitution of their own State. After all, the Constitution is the law of the land, and the Nevada Supreme Court should know that and rule accordingly.
But that isn’t the only Supreme Court that has been thumbing its nose at the Constitution. Less than two weeks after the Nevada Supreme Court’s ruling, the United States Supreme Court issued two rulings of its own, both dealing with admissions policies for the University of Michigan. The first case, Gratz v. Bollinger, deals with how the University admits undergraduates. It does so by awarding points to the applicants and admitting the highest scorers. In this system, someone with a perfect SAT score is awarded 15 points, and someone who is Black, Hispanic, or Native American is awarded 20. Clearly, skin color is more important to the University of Michigan than academic achievement. In the second case, Grutter v. Bollinger, the Law School of the University of Michigan isn’t clear on how race is a factor in admissions. It doesn’t use the clear-cut point system of the undergraduate admissions, but rather employs vague guidelines such as “a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity” with an eye to including people who have been “historically discriminated against, like African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans.” The Supreme Court ruled the undergraduate point system unconstitutional because the use of race was not “narrowly tailored” to achieve the University’s goal of diversity, but the Law School admissions were acceptable because the need for diversity is so great. Now I ask you, since when did diversity become such a virtue that it trumps the United States Constitution?
Now I’m not a lawyer, but these Supreme Court rulings seem to be backward. The 14th Amendment was passed to force the States to treat all people equally, including the recently freed slaves. That is the law of the land. But the Supreme Court ruled that being racist and discriminating is fine, just as long as you do it in a non-specific way. And all this under-cover racism is allowable and desirable because the nebulous goal of diversity is just so important. More important than what the Constitution says? Apparently the Supreme Court thinks so. They took something that is not in the Constitution and ruled it to be more important than something actually in the Constitution. It makes more sense to me to rule the vague Law School admissions policy unconstitutional because of it vagueness, and to allow the undergraduate policy of scoring which, while also being racist, has the benefit of being known and measurable.
Here we see the rulings of two courts that have looked at the Constitution and ignored it. In the case of Nevada, the Court said one part of their State Constitution was more important than the other, so it was not only acceptable to ignore it, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature must ignore it. In the case of the United States Supreme Court, the need for something not found in the Constitution was deemed more important than what was actually clearly stated in there. In both cases the courts felt justified in ignoring the same Constitution that granted them power and authority. This shows the clear need for justices that both know and love the Constitution.