• U.S.

THE SUPREME COURT: Rushing Toward Recess

3 minute read

Hearts set on recessing by the end of June, minds wrestling with a huge term-end backlog, the nine Justices of the Supreme Court face a forbidding task. Before this week is out, they hope to decide 32 cases—nearly a fifth of the year’s docket—including the constitutionality of capital punishment and press gags. Last week the court ruled on no fewer than 24 cases. Four had particular national significance:

¶ By a 7-to-2 vote the court held that nonreligious private schools may not refuse to admit students because of their race. The majority rejected the contention that “parental interests” in the education of children were absolutely protected by the right of privacy. It noted that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 guaranteed blacks and whites alike the right to “make and enforce contracts” on an equal basis. This right, the majority held, applies to a private school’s enrollment contract. For the hundreds of so-called white academies that sprang up after public school desegregation, particularly in the South, the new decision outlaws a formal whites-only policy. But it probably will not deter academies from citing dozens of spurious reasons for rejecting individual black applicants.

¶ Looking at equality another way, the Justices held, 9 to 0, that the Civil

Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination against whites “upon the same standards as would be applicable were they Negroes.” The case involved the firing of two whites accused of stealing from a trucking firm in Houston; a black who was also accused was not dismissed. The unanimous decision appears, indirectly at least, to cast doubt on some hiring and promotion quotas that favor blacks and women over white males.

¶ City officials got a boost from the court in their struggle to prevent neighborhoods from declining into sleazy centers of sex-oriented bookstores and porno movie theaters. According to a 5-to-4 majority, zoning that affects only the locale for disseminating such marginal forms of free speech does not offend the First Amendment. Thus the court upheld a Detroit regulation requiring that at least 1,000 ft. separate such adult establishments. Under the ruling, city zoning authorities would be also free to concentrate smut outlets in a relatively small area, if they chose to do so.

¶In a major affirmation of states’ rights, the court voted 5 to 4 to strike down federal regulations that applied minimum wage and overtime rules to state and local government employees. Dissenters called the ruling a “catastrophic judicial-body blow at Congress’s power under the commerce clause” of the Constitution. But the majority, in deciding to limit that power for the first time in nearly 40 years, thought that if the federal rules prevailed “there would be little left of the states’ separate and independent existence.”

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