Criticizes court on one, backs other
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney this week both blasted and commended the U.S. Supreme Court — criticizing it for striking down key federal voting rights provisions but praising it for overturning a law that banned same-sex marriage, a subject that resonates personally for the first-term U.S. House of Representatives member.
In closely watched decisions a day apart, the Supreme Court struck down parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act on Tuesday, June 25, and overturned the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act on Wednesday, June 26.
Among other things, the Voting Rights Act, designed, according to the court syllabus, “to address entrenched racial discrimination in voting,” demanded that nine states submit for federal government approval revisions to election laws before imposing them on residents.
The court determined that the law’s key section “is unconstitutional [because] its formula can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to pre-clearance” from federal authorities. Although Congress had renewed the law in 2006, the methodology or formula for establishing its coverage relied on conditions from the 1960s or 1970s — such as prerequisites then used to control voter participation, the court syllabus noted.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in the Voting Rights decision, with Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joining with him.
Also in a 5-4 ruling — though not involving the same lineup of justices — the court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which for purposes of federal law defined marriage as something limited to male-female couples. The majority for that decision consisted of Justice Kennedy, who wrote the opinion, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Voting Rights Concerns
Maloney weighed in on the Voting Rights decision shortly after the court issued it. “The Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate critical provisions of the Voting Rights Act is deeply disappointing and a setback to the core principles of our democracy,” he asserted June 25. “Even as recently as 2006, both Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly joined together to pass this landmark civil rights law that offers common-sense protections to all Americans. Although our country has made tremendous progress towards equal rights and equal opportunity for all, voting discrimination still exists, and Congress must act to ensure that every American has equal access to the ballot.”
According to his office, Maloney is a co-sponsor of legislation called the Voter Empowerment Act, described as “a comprehensive voting rights bill intended to modernize our voter registration system, reduce long wait-times to vote, ensure equal access to the ballot box for all Americans, and prohibit deceptive practices that may discourage people seeking to exercise their constitutional right to vote.”
In taking up the DOMA, the court ruled that the law “is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment,” as the court syllabus explained. “Its operation is also directed to a class of persons that the laws of New York, and of 11 other states, have sought to protect.” In short, the syllabus stated, “DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government.”
A Democrat who lives in Philipstown near Cold Spring, Maloney has a male partner, and the two have been together for 21 years. They have three children. He strongly welcomed the decision. After referring to his spouse and children, he said: “The Supreme Court has finally recognized us as a family. Today is not only a triumph for families like mine but for millions of Americans who still face legal discrimination simply for whom they love. Although our country has made historic progress towards equal rights and equal opportunity for all, our country still faces hurdles towards full equality.”
He subsequently added, “I want to congratulate the court and I want to congratulate the people who fought so hard to get us to this point… . June 26, 2013, will be [the] date that we made more whole the promise of America.”