A lot has happened this week, both frustrating and exciting, both for the country and personally. I'm not sure I can fully do justice to everything government-related that happened this week, but I thought it would be good to at least go over the basics and open up conversation on the topics I've heard most about.
— 1 —The week opened with the Supreme Court handing down two decisions that make it more difficult for someone to show they were discriminated against in their job. Both decisions have to do with the fear of retaliation that might prevent someone from reporting harassment they were receiving. You can read the explanations of the cases at the link above.
These decisions are problematic, in my eyes, because in harassment and discrimination cases where evidence is not completely clear, they come down in the favor of the company. They make it more difficult for an individual who is being harassed or discriminated against in their workplace to speak up about it (which, believe me, is already a very difficult thing to do), and more difficult for them to do anything about it if they speak up and are retaliated against. While I do think people need to provide some evidence of discrimination (to protect companies from disgruntled employees falsely claiming discrimination), I think the law should ultimately be concerned with protecting the interests of individuals in vulnerable positions over the interests of companies.
— 2 —On Tuesday, the Court released another unpopular opinion, striking down the preclearance part of the Voting Rights Act, which said that a handful of states with a history of voting discrimination had to get approval from the government before changing their voting laws or procedures. A lot of people saw this as the Court saying, "There is no voting discrimination anymore," but I appreciated this article from SCOTUS Blog explaining the decision in more detail. Again, I suggest reading the whole article, but essentially Congress was supposed to come up with a new formula for figuring out which states needed preclearance, and they didn't, so the Supreme Court said they can't justify defending a formula based on 1966 information. It's been put back to Congress now to look at more recent information on voter discrimination and figure out where problems still exist, so the next step for us is to put pressure on Congress to follow through on this to prevent discriminatory voting practices. With a different formula, it's possible that even more areas of the country will be found to have problems and have to get preclearance before making changes.
It sucks to be in limbo right now, and it sucks to have to rely on Congress to get anything done, and it sucks that some states where the preclearance provision has been lifted are already making plans to put more voting restrictions in place (which rarely catch any actual voter fraud, and are far more likely to prevent legitimate but disenfranchised voters from voting). But at least on this one, as opposed to some Court decisions, there's a way forward for Congress to act to fix it.
— 3 —Tuesday night I was away from home, so I was getting information via my Twitter feed about what was going on in the Texas legislature. A special legislative session was called to try to pass a measure that would come close to banning abortion in Texas, shutting down most of the state's abortion clinics and banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy (rather than the current 24 weeks). Although most of the Republican-led legislature supported the measure, there was not a majority of support among the people of Texas. To prevent the legislature from taking a vote on (and thus passing) the measure, Sen. Wendy Davis undertook a filibuster, which required her to stand and speak about the bill for over 10 hours without eating, drinking, taking a bathroom break, or going off topic. Near the end of the night she was ruled as having violated the filibuster rules, but this caused such protests and chaos to break out among the crowds in the capitol that the senators were unable to take a vote on the measure by the midnight deadline. They then tried to change the timestamps to make it seem like they were within time, but so many people had been watching that this didn't fly.
The governor has said he intends to call another special session and the measure will likely pass this time. But it seems that what made this moment so compelling for many people, even some who don't consider themselves pro-choice, was how clearly it put gender double standards on display, with Davis being watched like a hawk to ensure that she didn't break even the tiniest rule related to the filibuster, while the male-dominated senate evidently felt no qualms about trying to get around the midnight-deadline rule. It's a double standard familiar to anyone who's tried to be taken seriously in a situation where the power rests with another group: You must be perfect to be considered legitimate.
— 4 —Wednesday morning I got up, about ready to give up on organized government as a vehicle for protecting anyone's rights. Then I saw that the Supreme Court had struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman for all federal purposes. DOMA prevented legally married same-sex couples (in states where same-sex marriage is legal) from receiving any of the federal benefits associated with marriage. For example, you might have seen the video about David and Jason, the couple who were not allowed to live in the US together even though they were legally married because Jason was a citizen of the UK. The Court's decision does not require any state (or, as should be obvious, any church) to perform or recognize same-sex marriages, but it does confer legal federal benefits on couples in states where their marriage is legally recognized. The Court also dismissed the Proposition 8 case, meaning that the lower court decision, allowing same-sex marriage in California, stands.
For more on the implications of the DOMA and Prop 8 cases, I recommend the Gay Christian Network podcast released later the same day. One interesting implication noted in the podcast is that previously there were no practical implications between states with same-sex marriages and those with civil unions, but as federal benefits now only apply to the former, civil unions are unlikely to be considered equal anymore.
— 5 —OK, last political thing. The Senate actually passed an immigration reform bill yesterday, and there's a possibility (albeit not a large one) that it will get passed by the House. The bill encompasses what both sides want -- a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the country, with increased border security with Mexico aimed at preventing further immigrants from entering the country unlawfully. It's become increasingly clear (at least in my view) that no matter what Congressional Democrats or the Obama administration does, there will be Republicans claiming that not enough is being done and that Obama is being too "soft" on this issue. The Obama administration has put an emphasis on focusing deportation efforts on criminals rather than those actively contributing to the country, while on the other hand there have been the most deportations under this administration than any previous. I learned from this week's This American Life podcast that part of the reason for this is that while memos have come down from the administration asking Border Security offices to focus on deporting criminals, many of those offices have interpreted that as "but as long as you have the manpower, continue deporting anyone you can."
What most interests me about the politics surrounding immigration is that it is so complex that it seems anyone trying to make any point at all can pull out some piece of evidence to support their position. It is a situation where I think the more that we can keep our focus on the individual people who are affected by any governmental decision, the better.
— 6 —OK, enough about politics. On the home front, the good news this week is that Mike is finally home after a month of traveling. His job gives him two months off in the summer, so he took advantage of it to spend a good chunk of time traveling the country. Although we've been separated for longer periods before, this is the longest he'd been away from home since we got married. It's been more challenging than I expected to get back into our routines, and we've gotten on each other's nerves a bit as we're readjusting to being in the same space all day long again. Even before his trip, he was still working and so was gone for hours at a time, but I really got used to having a quiet working space while he was on vacation. Now we're both in our apartment all day, every day. But the students are still gone, so when he wants to watch a movie I just go out in the lobby to write. We're mostly back to our divisions of labor when it comes to dishes and laundry. (I had to do it all while he was gone, but I also didn't have him generating dishes and laundry!) Of course, readjustments aside, it's great to have him home. It's nice having him to talk to throughout the day, eat my meals with, and share a bed with again.
— 7 —The job search is both frustrating and promising. I got yet another job rejection in which I made it to the final stage and then the director called me to say that while they'd offered someone else the job, she wanted to call and tell me personally because I'd been such a strong candidate and interviewed so well and made their decision very difficult. Which sounds great, but 1) doesn't culminate in a job and 2) doesn't give me much guidance except to keep doing what I'm doing and hope the next time is somehow different. I had another interview this week with a different office on campus and they seemed to like me a lot (I always see it as a good sign when they quote my own answers back to me later in the interview), but I've thought that before, so I'm trying not to get my hopes up.
Those are my 7 Quick Takes for the week! To join the linkup or see other links, visit Conversion Diary.