The women who gave us the concept of intersectionality

For International Women’s Day and as part of Women’s History Month, here’s an essay about the black feminists whose work gave us the concept of Intersectionality: http://www.secularwoman.org/intersectionality-black-feminists-and-the-uprooting-of-kyriarchy/

(Still haven’t figured out how to activate the comment section, I apologize)

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Why I’m skeptical of efforts to criminalize the sabotage of birth control

***UPDATED to fix Tressie’s twitter handle. Cuz that was embarrassing.***

Men sabotaging women’s birth control is A Thing.
It’s a form of abuse, an act of taking control over her own body away from a woman. Women suffering from domestic violence are often additionally victim to this as well as other forms of abuse, by men trying to keep them from leaving the relationship (which for obvious reasons is much harder when you’re pregnant or have children in the house), or sometimes just because it’s another form of control and DV is all about control. It is obvious therefore that sabotaging women’s birth control and other forms of reproductive coercion need to end, victims of this need to be able to seek justice, and perpetrators need to be made accountable.
Which of course means that now that a Canadian case has made a lot of people notice that this is A Thing, they want to criminalize it, based on the argument that the sexual assault laws in the U.S. would never suffice by themselves to persecute abusers for it*. Sounds sensible: if you think that the criminal justice system works even remotely well, then it makes sense to think that if someone commits an act of violence, they need to be sent throught the CJS for it. But this really does require the assumption that the U.S. legal system is just (or at least “close enough” to just to make it work more often than not)and therefore that criminalization will work as intended.

I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical, because when I read this twitter exchange between Lauren Chief Elk (‏@ChiefElk) and Brienne of Snarth (@femme_esq), I couldn’t help but acknowledge the truth of many of the points, if not necessarily their immediate applicability to the wider U.S. culture**. I’m skeptical, because I tend to come at these things from a harm-reduction-based perspective, and I’m not convinced that this will actually reduce rather than increase harm. I’m skeptical, because cultural myths play a huge role in the ways laws actually end up being applied.
For example, the Stand Your Ground laws don’t actually allow victims greater leeway in self-defense (see: Marissa Alexander***) but rather allow already privileged people to get away with violence even more. This is because cultural myths are such that black men and women are always seen as the danger, and white men and women always as the defenders of civilization. And how does this work with birth control sabotage? Our cultural myths claim that women are baby-crazy, and men don’t actually want kids; that women are more likely to be ok with an unplanned pregnancy than men (there’s how many movies with that plot? The one where an uncomplicated het-relationship gets derailed by pregnancy that switches the woman into “settling&nesting” mode while giving the guy a midlife crisis?); that women are more invested in committed relationships than men (see: ball-and-chain), and thus more likely to use desperate measures to prevent a breakup; etc. Hell, google “tricking into pregnancy” and see how that works out. As Brienne points out in the twitter dialogue, the cultural narrative is of a woman trapping a man rather than vice versa. Even the Daily Beast article linked at the beginning of this essay acknowledges this with a link to an article discussing NBA orientation for rookie players, in which the following quote appears:

They wanted us to see the dangers out there. They warned us about groupies poking holes in condoms, having hidden cameras and stuff like that. The temptations are hard to turn down, but if you don’t, you are subject to big problems.

And remember, we live in a society in which there are people convinced that women stealing sperm out of discarded condoms is some sort of epidemic (google “spermjacking” if you really want to know more about this; I wouldn’t recommend it tho).
So what I’m saying is this: when you’re operating within an extremely unjust legal system, you have to be exceedingly careful how you use it; in this case, the question is: how likely is it that criminalizing BC sabotage will be effectively used against actual abusers, rather than against women by e.g. dudes not wanting to pay child support?
BC sabotage is going to be a situation of he-said-she-said almost always, and “he said” will be always given more weight than “she said”, especially when other oppressions like race and class also work against the woman. I can imagine this even leading to greater reproductive coercion, if a guy who doesn’t want a kid threatens the pregnant woman to either get an abortion or be accused of spermjacking or some shit like that. I can also imagine that many women won’t report BC sabotage: consider the stigma BC has in this country (Sandra Fluke anyone? And she was a very privileged woman); consider the cultural myths about who sabotages BC; consider the “bitches be lyin'” trope. Basically, all the reasons ever mentioned in #IDidNotReport will figure in here as well, and we might well be increasing the potential for legal harassment of victims of DV, by giving their abusers another tool to subvert for their own needs.

Mind you, harm reduction is not the sole reason to criminalize something. The main other uses of criminalization in justice are punishment, normalization, process, and deterrence.
I reject the idea of punishment as a goal of justice, in general. Punishment of an offender as a goal of criminalization/incarceration (rather than a means towards another goal) relies on the notion that responsibility lies solely and entirely with the offender; it requires belief in a self-causing will, in the notion that an action is entirely and solely caused by the offender’s creation of a desire and opportunity to act as they did. I don’t accept this belief, because it goes against the evidence that shows us that the world outside our heads shapes our desires, priorities, and opportunities. Punishment for the offender and only for the offender (because how to you incarcerate social structures?) is an individualist erasure of the structural causes of violence.
So while accountability for the harm caused by an action is a sensible part of justice, punishment for its own sake is not. Making someone “pay the price” for a crime to society or to the victims has to actually be of value to society or the victims, and locking someone up does not, per-se, produce any value to society/victims. It can only do so as a means to a goal. Which brings us to the other aspects.
Despite the saying “morality cannot be legislated”, a law actually is a normative statement. And the fact that plenty of people can’t tell the difference between legal and moral (nor the difference between illegal and immoral)seems to indicate that normalization happens, if not immediately than into the next generation at least. Basically, if you allow or forbid something and the world doesn’t come crashing down (or significantly inconvenience anyone with social visilibity), people get used to it and start thinking of this as the new normal. So folks saying that it would make a statement that society doesn’t condone reproductive coercion if it were criminalized do have a point. But as a main reason to criminalize it, it seems not enough, given that it would also be a weak normative statement. Not because a law is a weak normative statement per-se, but because laws that go against strongly entrenched cultural myths have their normative function subverted. E.g. rape being illegal does mean the cultural idea is that rape is bad, but it’s entirely abstract; not only do some actual rapes get defined out of the rape category, the culture also creates a lot of exceptions (the most jarring example is prison-rape: people generally don’t deny it’s rape, but they treat it like a joke or a deserved punishment). I suspect the same will happen with these situations: even if we’d achieve a normalization of the belief that reproductive sabotage is a thing and a bad thing, the cultural mythology around it will subvert it so that real instances will be treated as not-it, or as exceptions where it’s somehow ok.
Process means simply giving someone a clear, pre-set way of dealing with something. Now, I don’t think any engagement with the American CJS is easily understandable, simple, etc. but having a set process and a set of legal tools to deal with something is usually preferable to no procedure at all. This is likely the strongest case for criminalization, because it’s useful and helpful to be able to take out restraining orders, have a concrete, codified thing to accuse your abuser of, and have other rules you can lean on when it’s hard to try to think your way out of a situation. But acknowledging this absolutely requires remembering that this will be useful primarily to those with educational and class**** privilege; who don’t make up the majority of DV victims.
Deterrence is/can be an acknowledgement of the way social structures shape choices. To deter means to change the environment in which a choice is made, and introduce a desire (the desire to avoid being held accountable) to hopefully outcompete the desire that would be satisfied by the criminal action. These changes can lead to reductions in the occurrence of a harmful act, and can therefore be actually useful. As such, deterrence is not inherently flawed the way punishment is; but it needs to actually accomplish the environmental and internal changes, or else it’s bullshit. A law as deterrent tends to only work if the likelihood of getting caught & convicted is high, or at least thought of as high. Laws that have low rates of perpetrators getting caught and getting convicted make lousy deterrents: if you get away with it sometimes, you learn that you can get away with it always, even if it’s not true. Works like that for texting-and-driving, for underage drinking, for pot-smoking-while-white, and because of rape culture it also works like that on rape. My suspicion is that given the difficulty to prove sabotage and the power-disparity in literal he-said-she-said situations, arrest and conviction rates would be low. So, not an effective deterrent in the long run.

So to sum up: there are positive things that criminalization could possibly accomplish, but these effects seem to be overall fairly small and doubtful given the current cultural narratives. And the way selective application of these protective laws protects aggressors more than victims, there are potentially many negative consequences to victims. The potential for abuse, for being directed against victims of domestic violence, and for even increasing some forms of reproductive coercion is pretty big given the current social narratives. I worry that the negative effects far outweigh any positive ones.

Not that I’m saying we shouldn’t do anything about this problem, but I’m more and more thinking that putting the tools for defense in victims’ hands rather than in a severely broken, anti-woman, anti-poor, anti-PoC criminal justice system is the better approach at harm-reduction and empowerment at this time. So, some suggestions along those lines, to help free women from reproductive coercion without risking anti-woman side effects:

1)increase free and gatekeeper-free access to as many form of birth control (both the contraceptive and post-conceptive kinds): controlling women’s reproduction happens often with the cooperation of laws on birth control which make access complicated, time intensive, expensive etc, thus preventing women in DV situation from discreetly controlling their reproduction and from choosing options that would be less manipulable by a violent and controlling partner. Give women more options and access for BC, and in many cases you take away the means by which an abuser can coerce their reproduction.

2)Destroy the cultural myths that harm victims of reproductive coercion: these would the the ideas that consent to sex is consent to pregnancy; that reproductive coercion is something women do, rather than something abusive men do; etc.

3)Provide better safety nets and community support for single pregnant women and single women with children. When pregnancy and children no longer function as traps keeping the women from leaving (e.g. because there’s no women’s shelter that will accept all her kids), the utility of reproductive sabotage as insurance against leaving will diminish, and with it the value of this action to abusers.

None of those will stop all or even many cases of reproductive sabotage immediately; but neither would criminalization. I just think that the suggestions above would also have fewer negative side effects on already victimized women.

– – – – – – – – –

*it’s complicated, but basically Canada has some stricter ideas about what is or isn’t legally consent than the U.S. does. The Canadian case that kicked off this interest in criminalizing reproductive coercion was one in which the sabotage was treated as aggravated sexual assault because even though the woman consented to sex, she didn’t consent to unprotected sex. Basically, at least in Nova Scotia, it’s (as the case stands now) legally true that consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy. As this legal article explains, that’s not true in the U.S. because of that nasty thing called “generalized consent”, plus legal-structural shit that went over my head because IANAL.

**the conversation includes the following tweets:

[Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk
Decolonizing Anti-Rape Law and Strategizing Accountability in Native American Communities via @andrea366 http://communityaccountability.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/decolonizing-antirape-law.pdf ]
[Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk
Decolonizing Rape Law: A Native Feminist Synthesis of Safety and Sovereignty via @sarahdeer http://turtletalk.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/deer-decolonizing-rape-law.pdf ]
The papers deal with the question of sexual assaults and tribal courts. They’re amazing and I find these immensely interesting and good material for thinking about anarchist communities, because not being able to deal with sexual violence is a major flaw of every idea (and praxis) of anarchist community I’ve ever encountered. But most women in the U.S. don’t at the moment live in the kinds of communities that would allow for analogues to tribal court justice.

***relevant and timely, on Friday there will be a discussion on Marissa Alexander and how DV laws backfire on minority women:

[Lauren Chief Elk ‏@ChiefElk
So on Friday we’re going to talk about shifting anti-violence, criminalization of DV, & Marissa Alexander w/#FreeMarissa. Get ready to join.]

****class privilege is very relevant, even if you “fake” it. In this essay on poor people and expensive stuff, Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd) recounts the story of her mother helping people in the community with bureaucracy; and how her mother had an expensive outfit to do it which seemed to gain her “respectability” from the office folks, at least enough to make it possible to get stuff done where the people her mom was helping couldn’t.

Reactions to Nelson Mandela’s death

Nelson Mandela died yesterday. This prompted reactions pretty much everywhere, because if nothing else, the whole media-accessible world agrees that he’s a memorable and comment-worthy man. The most frequent reactions so far seem to fall roughly into three categories: right-wingers who hate his guts; right-wingers trying to appropriate him; and liberals trying to appropriate him.
This is where, usually, the “the liberal appropriation is worst” or”at least the right-wingers are honest” sort of stuff goes, but that’s crap. These are all crappy reactions to the death of Mandela. Yes, the right-wingers are the least wrong when they scream about what a communist and terrorist he was, since a)he worked closely with communists and believed freedom from poverty was a human right; and b)was the leader of a “terrorist”*/guerrilla organization before his arrest. But lauding them for that is a bit like lauding the fucker who smeared shit all over the bathroom for getting some of that shit into the toilet as well: the right-wing calls everyone they hate a terrorist and communist, sooner or later they were bound to hit someone who actually can be labeled like that with decent accuracy.
I’m not gonna bother saying much about right wing politicians appropriating Mandela. Because what exactly can I say about e.g. Santorum using his name in his battle against healthcare for poor people that doesn’t just speak for itself? I’ll just leave this handy list here, and also this UK-themed text-image**, and move on.
As for liberals appropriating Mandela? That has two parts. The first is people like Bill Clinton “remembering” Mandela as a friend, when he was still on the terrorist watchlist during Clinton’s presidency; when his administration did a lot to harm the new South Africa. I’m not saying Clinton didn’t think of himself as a friend, but you know… he was probably that kind of a friend; the kind that makes enemies superfluous; and now? Now he gets to bask in reflected glory. Swell.
In the long term, the second part is even worse. The second part is where the owners of history re-write Mandela’s biography as more palatable, squishy, cuddly, liberal-friendly. Now begins the same process that scrubbed all radicalism from the memory of MLK; the kind that takes the fact that after release from prison he chose not to be an agent of vengeance but of reconciliation and extends it beyond all reason to calling Mandela a symbol of “the power of peaceful resolution in even the most intractable conflicts” as a New York Times piece just did. No. As a note circulating the internet said:

Nelson Mandela used peaceful means when he could, and violent means when he couldn’t. For this, during his life they called him a terrorist, and after his death they’ll call him a pacifist — all to neutralize the revolutionary potential of his legacy, and the lessons to be drawn from it.

And his Unwillingness to reject the sometime need for violent resistance “when other forms of resistance were no longer open” is not the only part of his legacy that’s being erased. His left-wing politics, his anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism*** are all being erased (which gets us back to the part where a man like Bill Clinton gets to remember his version of Mandela; in public, for the public memory), smoothed out to make him more palatable as a hero for the still-existing kyriarchy.

There’s a 4th kind of common reaction to Mandela’s death: the people who are trying to set the record straight. Writers and commenters reminding people of the “radical histories of Mandela and MLK”, reminding them that “Mandela Was No Care Bear”, that he was an Unapologetic Radical, that he “will never, ever be your minstrel”, that “Conservatives Can Own Reagan, But You Don’t Get Mandela”, that “leadership knows how and when to follow and how and when to be unpopular; that resistance can not always be non-violent; and that perseverance is the cornerstone of revolution”. A few of the people doing these corrections do so because they think his radicalism and acceptance of sometime violence was a flaw that must be remembered; far more (I hope) will point out that sometimes oppression cannot be ended solely by non-violence, solely by clinging to civility and a moral high-ground built entirely to favor the status-quo in maintaining itself.

P.S.: A Mandela Reading List I didn’t manage to stuff anywhere into the body of this essay.

– – – – – – – – – – –
*in the sense it’s often used, meaning private persons or organization using violence and/or property-destruction as methods to fight against established governments
**if you can’t see the UK-themed image, it says

Mandela will die soon. Today, tomorrow, this week, next week. It won’t be long. Remember this.
When Cameron latches on the Mandela bandwagon this week remember that in 1985 he was a top member of the Federation of Conservative Students, who produced the “Hang Mandela” posters.
In 1989 Cameron worked in the Tory Policy Unit at Central Office and went on an anti-sanctions fact finding mission to South Africa with pro-apartheid Lobby Firm that was sponsored by P.W Botha.
Remember this when he tells the world he was inspired by Mandela

***in the Cold War, the USA was on the side of the Apartheid regime; the USSR on the other hand sided with the ANC. Such are the vagaries of history.

Feministe is apparently never going to learn this lesson

In February, there was that atrocious “in my feminist utopia, there wouldn’t be any sex work” piece which I took apart here. I noticed today that there was a new pingback to that post. It turned out to be this piece that talked about feministe’s problem with anti-sex-work narratives, which includes discussion of another shittastic piece posted at feministe 10 days ago, which in its original version indulged in fantasies of violence* against those who propose decriminalization**, even though given the choice between decriminalization and illegality, decriminalization leads to more reduction of harm towards sex workers***.

Unlike with the last piece, I won’t bother taking it apart line by line, if only because there’s really not that much content to be picked about. I do want to point out some of the most problematic bits, though. For one, what the article amounts to is a description of the strong reaction of a young privileged woman for the first time seeing deprivation and misery. As the article at Literate Perversions points out, the feministe article is not actually about the poor, drug-addicted women she describes:

Not a single word of her post is actually about the people in the city; it is entirely about how seeing them makes her feel. The people themselves are exotic others, with as much substance as if they had been green-screened into the background.

The othering is in fact entirely literal, when Pahman writes that what she sees “is ‘the other’ America, third world living conditions, the neighborhoods blighted.” There’s plenty of non-literal othering as well, for example in the fact that the piece manages not to include a word about their conditions or their own positions on the legality of prostitution from the people the article is supposedly about. Instead, we get indirect relation of what “every sexual abuse counselor, advocate and outreach team” she’s met told her when she asked them about legalization of prostitution, namely that none of them advocate for legalization**** of “this dire circumstance [she] was witness to” (which, as described below, was not just prostitution, or in any way wholly caused by prostitution). It’s entirely about her experience of going to the inner city for the first time ever and feeling shocked and overwhelmed at the deprivation and misery she saw from her van, and then unloading her feelz on an easy target.
And doing so indirectly, to boot, by pretending that it’s white privileged feminists who’ve never been within hearing distance of grinding poverty who are pro-decriminalization, while those people who live “in reality” as she claims of herself are those who are against it; when actually most prohibitionist rhetoric comes from the well established middle-class white feminists, while the voices for decriminalization are generally from those who are part of the communities in which sex work occurs in one way or another (example: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rmct2k ). Because screaming at sex workers themselves that they should stop advocating for themselves would be kinda awkward; much better to pretend one is screaming at clueless suburbanites instead.

The second major problem is the extreme simplification of the problems of American inner cities. She describes scenes that are caused by the complex interaction of American sociolopolitical structures, such as a history of sexism; a history of racial discrimination, for example in housing (redlining, white flight, etc.); decades of economic policies that increase inequality and erode the social safety net; the War on Drugs; and, yes, the policies regarding prostitution. But her reaction to this complex image focuses solely on how angry what she saw makes her at people who promote decriminalization of prostitution. At no point during that entire triade did any of the other contributing causes get even a token mention; at no point did it apparently occur to the author that prostitution isn’t going to be any more illegal than it already is, and yet there it is, apparently causing all the misery she desribes, all by itself, such as in this unreflective bit:

As I take brown bags of food into boarded up and blighted out crack houses where 20 women live, pregnant, addicted, and sought after by the police. When raids are done it is the women who are arrested and jailed, not the Johns.

Well, guess what wouldn’t happen to prostitutes if prostitution were legal; and not a word about the harm caused by the War on Drugs, either, no matter how self-evident its contribution to the quoted scenario#.

Then, of course, there’s the strawmanning. Most advocacy for decriminalization is as part of harm reduction, which pretty blatantly states that there’s harm that needs reducing. It’s about letting sex-workers speak for themselves and their needs at AIDS/HIV-related conferences, about providing resources such as Ugly Mugs, about forming labor movements of sex workers so that they can take power and thus defend and strike back against their oppressors. Yet Pahman claims that people who call prostitution sex-work and are against prostitution being illegal are pretending there’s no harm being done to sex workers, and that discussions of the agency of sex workers are actually claims about sex workers voluntarily or freely choosing## to be prostitutes.

And lastly, there’s the problem of feministe having published that; and published it with the line on wanting to do violence against people who support decriminalization (who are often sex workers themselves) intact, to boot. This is not “centering sex worker voices”; despite that being the title of her response to the last fuckup (not a retraction, mind you), Jill Filipovic of feministe has clearly no desire to actually do that. Much better to publish a ranty prohibitionist bit that erases sex worker voices and even fantasizes about violence against them.

– – – – – – – – – – – –
*the removed bit went like this:

Some may say “well that is why we must legalize it” and I want to spit in their face. I want to grasp my fingers around their neck and choke the ignorance from them.. I guess violence begets violence because my eyes go red when feminists lecture about “sex work.”

**the author called it legalization, because the author doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I don’t actually know anyone on the pro-sex-worker side who calls for legalization; it’s always about decriminalization.

***some links to various articles/studies about effects of different laws on the harms related to sex work:
-> discussions of two reports on the effects of the “Swedish Model” in Norway; includes links to the report, but they’re in Norwegian: https://feministire.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/the-oslo-report-on-violence-against-sex-workers/ , https://feministire.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/the-latest-on-norways-sex-purchase-ban/
-> the actual report discussed in the first of the above articles, in English: http://humboldt1982.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/dangerous-liaisons.pdf
-> a NZ report on the effects of their decriminalization law: http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/commercial-property-and-regulatory/prostitution/prostitution-law-review-committee/publications/plrc-report/documents/report.pdf
-> the new WHO guidelines for STI prevention and treatment among sex workers: http://www.who.int/hiv/pub/guidelines/sex_worker/en/index.html
-> South African position paper citing the reasons for supporting decriminalization: http://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/Policy%20Brief%20Position%20Paper%20on%20Sex.pdf
-> a paper describing how possession of condoms is used as evidence for prostitution in places where any part of sex work is criminalized, with predictable consequences for health (it’s not just a NYC thing) http://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/criminalizing-condoms-20120717%5B1%5D.pdf

****well, neither do sex-work advocates. But since we don’t get direct quotes from those people she’s asked about this, we can’t know whether they want it to stay illegal, or whether they’re pro-decriminalization. It’s a bit like those polls that said people were unhappy with Obamacare being used to support Republican opposition to it, when many people were unhappy with it cuz it didn’t go far enough.

#OTOH, who knows; maybe her opinion on drug policy is just as ass-backwards as her opinion on sex-work policy, and she would love to get violent against people who think the War on Drugs should end.

##This is pretty much why I’m opposed to the compatibilist conflation of free will and agency. Failing to clearly delineate the difference between those concepts leads to this kind of bullshit, or at least allow it to continue unchallenged.

A supreme court decisions roundup

an oddly large number of important supreme court decisions happened in the last few weeks. Instead of commenting on them individually and separately, I decided to put them all together; I don’t think it’s possible to get a decent idea of where the U.S. is heading, legally speaking.

1)United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry — These are the DOMA and Prop8 cases, respectively. The most important positive bit here is that in states where gay marriage is legal, gay married couples will now be treated the same as straight married couples at the federal level. The major bad part is that the way these two cases were handled, state-level bans on gay marriage are still perfectly legal, and states don’t need to acknowledge other states’ marriage laws. Basically, they turned gay marriage into a “states rights” issue. Still, this is at least 2 steps in the right direction: end to federal-level discrimination of already legal gay marriages, and the death of Prop * (and therefore restoration of gay marriage in California), but int he case of Prop 8, at a very high price, because the whole “standing” thing is arbitrary and can be used in really shitty ways to deny people access to courts.

2)Shelby County v. Holder and Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona — These are the decisions that (at least for now) defanged the Voting Rights Act and are very likely going to lead to massive voter disenfranchisement: while the court didn’t strike down the pre-clearance provisions(i.e. the requirement that certain states must submit to federal oversight and can’t change shit about their voting rules w/o the federal “go ahead”) themselves, it killed the Section that defined which states/counties/whatever the pre-clearance provisions apply to. So right now, they don’t apply anywhere, until Congress gets their act together (lol) to create a new formula “justified by current needs”. On the one hand, that sounds reasonable, because there’s many places in the US right now that are threatening voters’ rights that are not covered by the original formula, so the formula seems insufficient for modern needs. On the other, it only sounds reasonable to claim that the formula is “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day” if you believe the BS about how “things have changed dramatically” in the South, meaning that the states who had Jim Crow laws then wouldn’t happily revert to whites-only voting if given the chance.
Which brings us to the second case noted above, which on the surface looks like a win because it invalidated one part of Arizona’s ID law; but if you look deeper, you’ll note that it pretty much describes a method of getting around the ruling. Plus, apparently, the supreme court just decided that the constitution only allows Congress “to regulate how federal elections are held, but not who may vote in them”. So discriminatory restrictions are A-OK, as long as you’re not on the currently non-existent list of entities subject to pre-clearance. :-/
Definitely a GIANT step back; wouldn’t be so bad if the US had a reasonable and functional Congress that could quickly provide a more updated formula. But then if that’s how the US Congress worked, this problem wouldn’t have occurred in the first place, since the formula would already have been adapted to modern needs (which would still include most of the South, but now with added “OMG teh illegalz are voting!!!” ID-issuing states.

3)Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin — this is a case dealing with affirmative action. It basically says that a university cannot simply declare that it needs affirmative action in its admission process to increase diversity; rather, it needs to show, in the court of law, that it doesn’t have other, non-race-based, means of achieving greater diversity. Since that didn’t happen, the case was kicked back to a lower court so that the lower court could make that determination. That decision does two good things: one, it reaffirms the importance of diversity and its validity as a rationale for how to weigh admission applications; two, it reaffirms that the constitution doesn’t demand colorblindness at all costs, i.e. that an exception for remedying racial injustices embedded in society does exist. Given the make-up of the current Supreme Court (see: Scalia and “racial entitlements”), that alone is surprising and counts as a victory. Still, it may make the continued use of affirmative action a lot more difficult in the future. For now, I’m counting this one as not moving us either direction.

4) University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar and Vance v. Ball State University — these are both workers’ rights cases, specifically worker protection and rights in relation to the Civil Rights Act. The first case is about workers being protected from retaliation by the employer after complaining about discrimination; the second case is about when an employer is liable for discrimination. The ruling in the former says that a worker has to prove that the sole reason for being discriminated was retaliation (good fucking luck with that; an employer needs to come up with only one other plausible reason, and they’re off the hook). The ruling in the latter states that an employer is only automatically liable for a case of discrimination when the person doing the discriminating has the direct ability to hire, fire, or promote the discriminated against person (e.g. racially motivated negative performance reviews don’t count; harassment doesn’t count; always being assigned to be the person who makes the coffee in meetings doesn’t count). Both decisions are massive losses of workers’ rights against discrimination and harassment.

5)Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International — This case was about a foreign aid rule that stated that organizations receiving money from the US to fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria had to be strictly against prostitution; meaning that sex worker’s rights groups and those dealing with HIV/AIDS prevention for sex workers weren’t given a penny even though they are one of the most at-risk populations. The Supreme Court ruled against the constitutionality of that rule. This is good. It’s narrow, because it only applies to broad issues not directly subject to the funding, meaning (in more familiar terms) that not allowing abortion as part of family planning when using federal family planning funds is still ok, but demanding a wholesale anti-abortion position from recipients wouldn’t be; so demanding an anti-prostitution position from recipients has been declared a violation of the 1st Amendment. Still, this is a good step forward, and a HUGE one in terms of actually helping marginalized people.

6)American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant — this one is about arbitration agreements (about one between corporations, but according to the Supreme Court, corporations are people, so…); basically it concluded that a contract that precludes class-action arbitration or lawsuits is valid and therefore class action suits are forbidden if you signed one. Specifically, the argument that you can’t defend your claim b/c it’s too expensive for an individual is not a legally acceptable reason to void a contract.
And I’m willing to bet you’ve signed at least one contract forbidding either class action suits or forcing arbitration (e.g.: paypal has one).
Giant step backwards for worker rights and also for consumer rights.

7)Salinas v. Texas — 5th Amendment case, specifically about the “right to remain silent” and not have that taken as evidence of guilt. The Supreme Court decided that you can’t just clam up and assume that this will protect you. Apparently, you need to state, for the record, that the reason you’re shutting up is that you’re pleading the 5th, because apparently intent is what matters, not the right not to be forced to incriminate yourself (and now, that rule even applies when you’ve not been informed of this fact i.e. when you haven’t been read your Miranda rights cuz you’re not being arrested); therefore, officially, the dude in this case didn’t even use the 5th Amendment. And we still lucked out with this horrible result, because if the court had actually decided to consider the actual constitutionality of the case, we’d be discussing whether your silence can be used against you even if you do plead the 5th as long as you’ve not been arrested; and at least Scalia and Thomas very much think that you can only remain silent and not have that used against you is if you’ve been officially arrested and therefore didn’t “volunteer” to talk to cops nor can leave whenever you want to (how one could leave or not-volunteer to talk to cops when that behavior could now be used against you is a mystery to me).
Bad result, and definitely a step backward, but I don’t actually know much about the standard M.O. of cops to know how much of one. If it has until now not been the case that simple refusal to voluntarily talk to people (or leave, or say “i won’t say anything more without a lawyer, or whateverthefuck) could be used as evidence for guilt in court, then this permission to do so will have horrible effects on people and people’s rights; if cops and courts have already been doing this anyway, and the court case was an attempt at a novel defense from that behavior, then this changes nothing but “merely” enshrines a certain behavior in law; that would be a much smaller step back.

8)Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl — this is a very complicated adoption case, so I’m gonna actually talk about it in its own blog-post. ATM, I’m just going to note that
a)the kid is NOT actually going back to the people who were trying to adopt her, even if it sided with their interpretation of which NDN children the ICWA applies to. That’s because the people who wanted to adopt “baby Veronica” hadn’t yet done so, and tribes have priority rights in placing children who are (eligible to be) members of their tribe, and baby Veronica is definitely a member of the Cherokee Nation (you can ignore the BS about how she’s “1% Cherokee”, because that’s not how it works; the Cherokee Nation don’t consider themselves a race but a nation, and the kid qualifies for citizenship).
b)The court ruled that the IWCA didn’t apply in the original case so the bio-father didn’t have overriding rights to custody, but now there is an established residence with the tribe, so NOW it might apply, and a new case will likely be required to sort this shit out.
c)Regardless of the details, choosing the narrowest definition of the IWCA is definitely a step back for tribal rights at least; and could set a horrible precedent in which NDN kids taken away at birth wouldn’t be considered eligible for the protection under the IWCA.

Overall judgment: recent Supreme Court cases have set back the rights of marginalized people massively: the exceptions were DOMA and the sex worker case, but these exceptions can’t and shouldn’t overshadow the regressive and oppressive trend.