For those who study political science, there are certain landmark cases that are drilled into our heads in nearly every class we take: Marbury v. Madison, McCulloch v. Maryland, and Plessy v. Ferguson just to name a few. Even outside the study of politics, ask any American to name a famous Supreme Court case and they probably be able to at least answer with Brown v. Board of Education or Roe v. Wade. These court cases are more than names separated by a “v.” but they make up the fabric of our nation’s democracy. The defendants and prosecutors of each case that is lucky enough to be heard by the Supreme Court have traveled a long and arduous journey to have their writ of certiorari be granted. The nine justices that make up the Supreme Court have tough decisions to make in each one of these cases, for it’s not just a single person or few groups of people that are affected by their final decision, but in fact, they impact every single American from that moment on and generations more to come.
The Prop 8 and DOMA cases that were heard last week also have the same clout of importance behind them, as they will not only define what marriage means, but also speak to issues such as state’s rights and equality. Speculation as to how they will vote has ranged from striking both laws down as unconstitutional to potentially sidestepping the issue entirely and punting it back to the states. Yet no matter how the vote goes, the decision will lay precedent of great magnitude.
Will you be able to explain why you believed what you did when your grandchildren ask, “Why?”
The Supreme Court has the arduous task of not only upholding the values of justice and liberty, but they also must be cognizant of public opinion, especially when a changing of the tide begins to occur. For every case that the Court hears, it’s legitimacy in the eyes of the nation’s people is always put to the test. Yet I do not say this to imply that this sways their vote one way or another – going against the popular opinion in the South was what ended segregation and the policy of “separate but equal.” But the reality of context of the case, makeup of the Court, and time in which a specific court case is seen can have a significant impact on the final outcome. If this case was heard just 10 years ago, with 53% of Americans being against gay marriage (as opposed to the complete opposite in the affirmative direction now) could easily have changed the future outcome of this June’s decision.
Very rarely are we lucky enough to be witnessing history in the making. And that’s just what this is: historic. No matter the decision, the motto still reigns true: Where will your views stand when the history books about this issue are written in 50 years? Will you be able to explain why you believed what you did when your grandchildren ask, “Why?”