BOISE -- It was a historic week at the Supreme Court with three key rulings that could have big impacts right here in Idaho. The rulings on gay marriage, the Voting Rights Act, and affirmative action will not have immediate impact in Idaho. But down the road, and certainly into our next state legislative session, an expert says those impacts will be felt.
The first ruling came on affirmative action. The justices ruled overwhelmingly that the University of Texas will have to justify using race in its admissions policies, but that affirmative action could stay in place.
Dr. David Adler from the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State explains, "What will be expected, of course, is that universities and colleges will be able to demonstrate the importance of the use of race as a factor to ensuring the critical diversity that the Supreme Court says serves the great interest of higher education in this country."
Adler says there won't be an immediate impact on Idaho. However, he says this moves the nation closer to the day when a student's race isn't used at all in college admissions.
The court also struck down a key component of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that had forced jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to get an OK from the feds for changes to election procedures.
Idaho was not one of the states affected by that component. But Adler says this decision could have an impact in the Gem State if we see in the next census a critical increase in Hispanic voters centralized in a few counties. "If in fact, state laws, in any way, shape, or form attempt to disenfranchise them, then they would have the basis for bringing an action based on the Voting Rights Act, except they will have been denied the protection that was afforded by that statute."
Finally, the court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, allowing gay spouses to collect federal benefits. Idaho does not recognize gay marriage. Just seven years ago, a large majority of Idaho voters backed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
But Adler says this -- coupled with six Idaho cities passing anti-discrimination ordinances to protect those who are gay -- shows a shift in the tide of support for gay marriage everywhere, even in Idaho. "Idaho is not an island here in the country. And in fact, it will be caught up in the surging momentum across the nation to recognize constitutional rights for all citizens, no matter their gender or their orientation."
In next year's legislation session, Idaho Republican Party leaders are urging state lawmakers to void those anti-discrimination ordinances aimed at the LGBT community. Adler doesn't believe leadership will take that up.
Adler does believe the state legislature will again take up the issue of adding the words "sexual orientation and gender identity" to the state human rights law. That failed again last session.