April 15, 2012 | Marion Star | Original Article

Supreme Court Cases on Race Bear Watching

The Supreme Court term is shaping up to be a significant one on issues involving race. The justices are poised to decide a handful of high-profile cases that could have a long-term impact on African and Hispanic Americans. And the fact that the Roberts court is more conservative than its recent predecessors does not bode well for minorities.

The influence of conservative justices has already been witnessed in the top court's January decision on Texas' redistricting maps. Based on the 2010 Census, Texas gained four congressional seats because of 4.3 million new residents, 65 percent of whom are Hispanic. But the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature drew up new maps that favored the GOP in three of the four new districts. Minority rights groups sued in federal court, which led a three-judge panel to propose redrawn maps more fair to Hispanics.

Then the top court entered the fray and rejected the judges' new maps, ruling that they lacked deference to the ones drawn by the legislature. Ultimately, Texas was forced to delay its primary until May 29. A federal three-judge panel approved interim maps that create at least two new districts more favorable to Hispanics, though rights groups claim the plan still does not go far enough.

Another hot-button issue is anti-immigration laws. The top court will hear oral arguments April 25 on the Obama administration's challenge to Arizona's controversial law. The administration says such laws are irreconcilable with federal laws. Should the court uphold Arizona's law, Latinos would feel the effects nationwide: Other states have passed similar laws, and court approval could encourage more to do the same.

Finally, the court's ideological shift could impact affirmative action in an upcoming case that could undo the compromise reached in Grutter v. Bollinger. That 2003 ruling barred public colleges from using a point system to boost minority enrollment, but allowed race to be taken into account to achieve academic diversity. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a key swing vote, wrote the majority opinion. But her replacement, Justice Samuel Alito, reflects the court's rightward turn.

A 2010 analysis of rulings made during the first five years of Chief Justice John Robert's tenure found the court more conservative than recent ones. "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," Roberts wrote in a 2007 decision striking down school desegregation programs in Seattle and Kentucky. That he would make such a simplistic statement about such a complex issue doesn't inspire confidence.