How the courts disappoint

American politics has provided some updates on our concerns about the courts and social movements (see: “You can’t count on the courts”).  Be sure that activists will be disappointed–and that they are extremely unlikely to give up.

In Wisconsin, the State Supreme Court overturned the ruling of a lower court judge who struck down the anti-union provisions of the dramatic state budget.  She had ruled that the budget process, which included the flight across state lines of all the Democrats in the State Senate, violated Wisconsin’s open meetings law.  The State Supreme Court divided 4-3 on the question, and the majority included David T. Prosser, Jr., who has only recently survived an unusually contested re-election campaign.  Often uncontested, Prosser’s re-election was the first chance for disgruntled Democrats–and others–to voice their opposition to Governor Scott Walker and the budget bill at the polls.

It won’t be the last. 

Democrats and organized labor have launched recall campaigns for eight Republican state senators–all those eligible for recall.  If they win three, the Democrats will gain control of the body.  Clearly, the recall campaigns will consume both activist attention and a great deal of money from organized labor in Wisconsin–and across the nation.  Expect conservative and Republican money to flow into the state at the same time.  It will be like a mini-economic stimulus plan focused on media and political consultants.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, Federal Judge James Ware upheld Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision to strike down a ballot measure prohibiting same sex marriage in California.  Now retired, Judge Walker has acknowledged a long-term intimate relationship with another man, and supporters of the marriage ban argued that Walker’s sexual orientation compromised his objectivity in the case.

Disappointed by the decision they were, nonetheless, undaunted, and plan to continue appeals which could ultimately end in the Supreme Court of the United States.  Of course, this isn’t all of it; they’ll also be engaged in ongoing battles with advocates of same sex marriage across the states.

I don’t claim to be expert on reading the courts–on the same sex marriage issue, all the experts seem to fixate on Justice Kennedy as decisive.  By the time a case reaches the Supreme Court we’ll be reading dispatches on the movies he watches, his exercise regime, and what he has for breakfast each day.

On same sex marriage, the tides of history are somewhat easier to read, and they favor the advocates of marriage equality.  Although same sex marriage is available in only a few states, public opinion has changed quickly, and continues to move toward acceptance of extending the institution.  Most notably, the polls suggest a deep generational divide, with young people overwhelmingly in support of same sex marriage.

I have a harder time reading the tides on labor in Wisconsin–and across the country.  The mobilization against the budget was dramatic and invigorating for Labor and the left.  But organized labor has just lost similar battles in Indiana and Ohio.  Wisconsin has become a test case for assessing whether new Republican majorities have overstretched their mandate–and if their opponents can take advantage of it.

Much rides on the outcome.  And the answer won’t come from the courts.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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One Response to How the courts disappoint

  1. Pingback: What courts can/ will do | Politics Outdoors

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