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Equality under attack in U.S. Supreme Court

The far-right backlash against our civil rights progress reaches the U.S. Supreme Court this week with two critically important cases that could dramatically set back efforts to achieve racial equality in our nation.

Evenwel v. Abbott, heard by the Court today, the plaintiffs are seeking to demolish our longstanding “one person, one vote” standard, so that only voters, not all people, are counted when legislative districts are drawn.

This is nothing less than a power grab and a frontal assault on the core of the 14th Amendment, which was enacted after the Civil War to give equal representation and protection to all people.

Voting rights experts say that by not counting everyone – including children, unnaturalized immigrants and others who can’t vote – our political system inevitably will become even more skewed toward the political right, because urban areas will lose representation.

In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, scheduled for oral argument tomorrow, the plaintiffs hope to strip our universities of the right to consider racial diversity as a compelling factor when making individual admissions decisions.

You and I understand that diversity in our institutions of higher learning enriches all of us. It expands opportunity to talented minority students who face so many barriers in life. It reduces racial isolation, which helps use overcome prejudice. And, the exposure of all students to the perspectives of others is critical to our future in an increasingly complex and globalized world.

That’s why we filed a brief supporting this affirmative action policy. To foster diversity, universities must have the ability to help level the playing field for disadvantaged or marginalized young people.

We’ve made so much progress. But I’m concerned about the erosion of rights that have made us a more just nation.

It’s particularly worrisome that both cases are part of a systematic legal campaign by the same right-wing legal organization – called, ironically, the Project on Fair Representation – that earlier succeeded in gutting the Voting Rights Act.

In Evenwel, the lead plaintiff is a Texas Tea Party activist who has promoted extremist conspiracy theories about President Obama. Her co-plaintiff says that “[t]he Jew is the enemy of the Cross” and has characterized the Holocaust as a “miracle.”

I hope you’ll take the time to read more about these cases and make your voice heard.

And, if you’re in Washington on Wednesday, please join others who will be gathering on the Supreme Court steps at 8 a.m. to show support for diversity in our universities.

Thank you for everything you do for justice and equality.