Three Supreme Court Decisions Advance Equality Across the Nation

Supreme Cort Rulings-BlogFor over four decades, MEDA has been championing its core value of equity and fairness—the type of equity and fairness showcased by a trio of Supreme Court decisions this week.

Health care
With regard to health care, the attempt to weaken the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was once again thwarted, now with the backing of the Supreme Court.

With no success on the legislative front, opponents of the ACA have tried their luck in the courts, but that avenue has not shown results either. In 2012, the court upheld the ACA’s individual mandate, which compels everyone to buy health insurance or be penalized. In 2015, that penalty is $325 or 2 percent of family income, whichever is greater.

This week, the court refuted a challenge to the subsidies that many Americans receive to be able to purchase health insurance. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, claimed that more than seven million people use such subsidies to be able to afford health insurance.

This case had the potential to eradicate a major component of the ACA; its defeat is a major step forward in the fight for health care as a right for all.

Affordable housing
In a big win for civil rights advocates, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of upholding the Fair Housing Act. Now, housing policies that create a negative impact on minorities–whether the policy is intentionally discriminatory or not–can be challenged.

This ruling means that housing rights lawyers no longer need to prove that policies are intentionally  racist, which can be difficult to do. It is enough to now prove that the policies are showcasing different outcomes for different races—a much easier task.

The ruling also preserves a legal strategy that has been used for more than 40 years to remedy discrimination in everything from mortgage lending practices and insurance underwriting to zoning laws and occupancy rules.

Same-sex marriage
Today, the court proclaimed that all states must allow same-sex couple to marry, with marriages from other states needing to be recognized.

The justices who penned the majority ruling cited the compelling stories of the plaintiffs.

One such story is that of Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the case. Obergefell sued the state of Ohio to get his name listed on his late husband’s death certificate. Unable to legally marry in Ohio in 2013, Obergefell married his partner of over two decades, John Arthur, in Maryland, where same-sex unions had been legalized. The catch was that Arthur was in a hospice dying from ALS, a degenerative muscle disease, so this was anything but a typical wedding. These nuptials actually took place in a specially equipped medical plane, with Arthur’s aunt officiating. The venue was not a fancy hotel, or a beachfront, or a backyard garden: it was the tarmac of Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Once back home in Cincinnati, the state of Ohio refused to recognize the union: the “Buckeye State” had amended its constitution in 2004 to prohibit same-sex marriage from being “valid in or recognized by” the state.

Obergefell decided to challenge the ban after his husband died and the state of Ohio listed Arthur as “single” on the death certificate.

In today’s ruling, the court explained that “the generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.”

Speaking of stories such as that of Obergefell, the court wrote that “their stories reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but to live their lives, or honor their spouses’ memory, joined by its bond.”

An overwhelmed Obergefell, on the steps of the Supreme Court this morning, received a call from President Obama. The president stated, “You’re going to bring about a lasting change in this country. And it’s pretty rare where that happens. So I couldn’t be prouder of you and your husband.”

This week’s three Supreme Court decisions are a step forward for the nation.

Explains MEDA’s Executive Director Luis Granados, “When one of us is equal, all of us are more equal.”

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