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SCOTUS’ civil rights seesaw

Martin Luther King famously said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. If the Supreme Court’s recent decision to invalidate the Defense of Marriage Act let us watch the arc bend, the Court’s other civil rights decisions this week proved just how excruciatingly long the arc is.

Vivid case in point: While millions of Americans were busy celebrating the DOMA ruling on Wednesday, officials in half a dozen Southern states—empowered by the Court’s previous day’s decision to invalidate a key part of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder—wasted no time in making moves to institute or re-institute stringent voter identification laws.

This is the basic contradiction of the last week of the Supreme Court’s 2012-2013 term. The DOMA decision, United States v. Windsor, was a true triumph for our Constitution’s fundamental guarantee of equal protection. But in three other decisions this week, the Court seriously hampered the key statutes Congress has enacted to protect civil rights at the ballot box and in the workplace.

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