The week in politics

June 27, 2013

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Hope to get back to it on a more regular basis.

Anyway, the big news of the week (here in Boston at least) is the election of Ed Markey to the Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry. This was no surprise to anyone unless they get all their news from the Herald, which alone of all the media I’ve seen kept finding inklings of a significant surge of support for Gabe Gomez. Markey has been criticized for playing it safe and “merely” mobilizing his base, but in fact that was all that was needed; turnout was in fact half of what it had been in the Brown/Coakley race. Gomez never gave people a reason to vote for him beyond his being a nice guy, a Navy SEAL, young, vigorous, and less partisan (i.e. less predictable in his positions) than Markey; the last-mentioned consideration actually counted against him, and the others weren’t enough to  make up for it. As I wrote after the primaries, I never got the sense that the public mood this year was anything like what it was when Scott Brown scored his upset win a few years ago; moreover, Brown wasn’t the total outsider to politics that Gomez proudly presented himself as. As much as we sometimes gripe about the “insiders,” here in MA we tend to prefer elected officials with experience.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court started out the last week of its term with two decisions which were strongly conservative, though skating short of being radically so: they didn’t exactly end Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act, they just set standards of scrutiny that will make these policies harder if not impossible to follow. Then came the Equal Marriage cases. This time they gave the Left just enough of what it wanted, again without doing anything really radical. It seems that as long as the Court is dominated by two parties of four justices apiece, with one regular swing vote, we’re going to see more of these narrowly-crafted opinions; which may be the best thing from the point of view of the law as a whole.

Informed opinion all along had been expecting something like the DOMA and Prop 8 opinions, especially since the oral arguments. For one thing, the dominant flavor of conservatism on the Court is pro-business, not culture-war, though Scalia at least clearly falls into the latter category. Dumping DOMA was an easy step for the Court to take; the posture of the case made it at least as much about States Rights as about Equal Protection. The part of the law that immunized hetero-only states against Full Faith and Credit challenges was not in question; only the part that aligned the Federal Government with those states, causing  legally married same-sex couples in the growing number of Equal Marriage states to miss out on Federal benefits they arguably were entitled to.  Of course the decision will only increase the political pressure for Equal Marriage in the remaining states; same-sex couples there will fight more vigorously for their rights, and even people there who aren’t for same-sex marriage per se might be sensitive to the argument that couples shouldn’t be denied Federal benefits that similar couples in other states have.

As for Prop 8, again the Court did the easiest thing it could have done, from a judicial conservative point of view: it followed the long-standing tradition of avoiding potentially embarrassing issues by deciding that there wasn’t a valid case or controversy for it to decide. If the Governor and Attorney General of a state, as the original defendant in the case, are unwilling to defend their law on appeal, that apparently ends the matter; no other supporter of the law has standing, so there’s no case. What effect this has will have to be worked out by the Californians, but the executive branch seems quite willing to follow the District Court ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

This will bring the number of Americans living in Equal Marriage states up to around 30%. Only 30%, we on the Left complain, and rightly so; but let us bear in mind that 10 years ago the percentage was 0.

Finally a shout-out to Wendy Davis, the Texas state senator who reminded us how filibustering was meant to be done. Take note, Harry Reid!!!

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