U.S. Supreme Court Building. • Photo by Jeff Kubina
U.S. Supreme Court Building. • Photo by Jeff Kubina

The developments of the past three weeks in terms of Supreme Court decisions has been head spinning and the passing of a well loved local hero Dr. Elson S. Floyd left our hearts with sadness.

The Supreme Court weighed in on issues that the larger society calls cultural wars. We people of color and other oppressed groups call them social justice wars. Here are highlights of the Supreme Court rulings that have high impact on our communities:

Affordable Care Act

In King et al v Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services et al challenged the constitutionality of the government penalizing (taxing) individuals who do not have health care and the expansion of Medicaid to the states. The Supreme Court, in a 6 to 3 vote reaffirmed that Congress had affirmed that Congress had the right to levy taxes. This ruling supports our Asian Pacific Islander (API) populations who are seeking affordable, low income and/or free health care. For more, visit http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-114_qol1.pdf.

Marriage Equality

Jim Obergefell won in Obergefell v Hodges the right to put his name on his husband’s Ohio death certificate as the surviving spouse. In Ohio as well as in other states, marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman. The Supreme Court debated and determined that same sex couples have the right to be married under the U.S. Constitution in a 5 to 4 vote. This ruling greatly benefits our API GLTBQ (gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and questioning) population. GLTBQ population is estimated at 10 percent. of the larger population. For more, visit http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf.

Prior to this determination, the legalization of same sex marriage has been left to the states. The freedom to marry, or marriage equality, has been legal in 39 states, namely: AL, AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IA, IL, IN, KS, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MT, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, UT, VA, VT, WA, WV, WI, and WY – plus Washington, D.C.

The Supreme Court decision makes it effective in all U.S. states and its territories, namely American Samoa, Midway Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands.


The Supreme Court affirmed the use of disparate impact in the Texas Department of Housing v Inclusive Communities Project. Disparate impact, as a form of discrimination occurs when a population is harmed at a much higher rate because of its legally protected status, be it by race, gender, disability, etc. The courts did not require the plaintiff to prove intentional discrimination in the matter. For more, visit http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-1371_8m58.pdf.

This reaffirms disparate impact as a form of discrimination that was denied in the 1989 Wards Cove Packing Company v. Antonio ruling. Recall that Cannery Workers and Farm Laborers Union Local 7 and Seattle activists were critical players in this discrimination lawsuit. The facts demonstrated that cannery jobs were mostly filled with non-whites and non-cannery jobs were filled mostly with whites. The Supreme Court denied that discrimination occurred. Congress then passed the 1991 Civil Rights Act to intentionally nullify the Ward’s Cove precedent.

Passing of Dr. Elson S. Floyd

Last but not least, we recall the legacy of a true social justice hero, Dr. Elson S. Floyd, who passed away on June 20, 2015. He served as Western State University’s President for eight years.

An African American man from very humble southern roots, he executed his belief and vision that full access to public education would make a difference in the lives of the poor and underserved. His legacy and focus on the students will be well remembered. During the recession, UW responded by increasing admission of foreign and out of state students. Dr. Floyd had WSU accept local students, markedly increasing the size of the WSU student body. He led a phenomenal $1 billion capital campaign. And most importantly, during the last five months of his cancer illness, he lobbied to establish a medical school to meet the medical needs of communities. During the graduation ceremony, he stood and shook the hands of each WSU graduate. Receiving many hugs, he was known to give out his cell number. He passed on at 59 years of age. Too soon, just too soon.

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