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For several centuries now, the United States Supreme Court had the power to issue landmark decisions on civil rights and liberties by offering a different interpretation of the country’s Constitution. One of such cases was Brown v. Board of Education which effectively ended racial segregation and sparked the Civil Rights Movement (Cheeseman 5). More recently, the U.S. Supreme Court relied on the Constitution to declare state prohibition of same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
Clearly, these decisions are quite controversial and frequently revolutionary for their times. Unsurprisingly, the opponents of such decisions often claim that the Founding Fathers originally wrote the Constitution to be interpreted narrowly and literally. However, I believe that the main legal document of the United States was intended to be a living document, flexible to adjust to changing times.
First of all, if the authors of the Constitution wanted to spell out all the laws to be followed in the United States, they had an opportunity to do so. However, the very nature of a constitution as a legal document implies that its main aim is to outline the most important underlying concepts and principles that the society should be guided by. Consequently, they included such values and notions as freedom, justice, and equality. Secondly, while some may argue that these values and principle have a rigid definition, history has proved that this is not the case. Nowadays, it is absurd to imagine that someone would argue that “separate but equal” is a fair principle.
Surely, the Constitution cannot and should not be revised on an everyday basis. However, I believe that the existing judicial structure and system of checks and balances provides sufficient protection against capricious and unjustified changes in interpretations of the Constitution.
The Voting Rights Act adopted by Congress in 1965 was one of the most effective pieces of legislation to deal with race-based discrimination in the field of voting (Cheeseman 16). While 1965 seems to be a very recent time, it is nevertheless quite distant in terms of racial inequality in the United States. Even though slavery had been abolished for almost a century by 1965, racial segregation and discrimination persisted well into the 20th century.
While the state legislatures could no longer implement laws directly discriminating against the African Americans, they found legal loopholes to adopt measures that would effectively prevent this minority group from voting and otherwise participating in the political life of the country. Such acts were highly unethical as they purposefully targeted minority groups to exclude them from the life of the society.
Consequently, Congress had sufficient moral and legal justification to enact the Voting Rights Act to protect the rights of American citizens, regardless of their race. Congress also had sufficient evidence to believe that some states were far more likely to engage in such unethical law-making so it introduced a formula to determine the states that would require federal approval for changing their voting requirements. Given the legacy of slavery that some states then struggled to overcome, this was a justifiable measure.
However, I believe that this requirement in its present form is no longer supported by sufficient evidence. While the problem of racism is still, unfortunately, present in the American society, Congress should recognize its changing nature and forms. The assumption that some states are more prone to passing discriminating laws is no longer valid, and Congress should develop a new formula that would address the contemporary challenges that minority groups face.
Cheeseman, Henry R. Contemporary Business Law. 8th ed. 2014. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Print.