Last updateThu, 30 Jul 2015 7pm

LOS ANGELES Friday, July 31st 2015 6:26


Getting Serious about LA’s Sidewalk Repairs: A Five-Point ‘Let’s-Get-On-with-It’ Plan

Ken Alpern
FIXING LA-Last Tuesday night's City Council Board of Public Works and Budget Committees met and allowed a lot of good public input to a series of concerned and available Councilmembers and City officials. The attendance and input were both outstanding--I want to thank Councilmember Mike Bonin, in particular, for allowing the outreach and advice to…

Latino Politicians Putting Climate Change Ahead of Constituents

Joel Kotkin
POLITICS-Racial and economic inequality may be key issues facing America today, but the steps often pushed by progressives, including minority politicians, seem more likely to exacerbate these divisions than repair them. In a broad arc of policies affecting everything from housing to employment, the agenda being adopted serves to stunt upward…

Worlds Apart on Kathryn Steinle: When Political Opportunism Reigns Supreme

John Mirisch
MUSING WITH MIRISCH-The small Swedish Jewish Museum in Stockholm is tucked away on a side street. Discreet signage instructs would-be visitors to push a button which activates a camera, so they can be screened before they are granted entry. The museum's permanent exhibition fills one fairly small room. Most of the objects on display are Jewish…

Garcetti Passes, Wesson Fails

Jack Humphreville
LA WATCHDOG-Our Los Angeles Times has issued midterm letter grades for Controller Ron Galperin (B-) and City Attorney Mike Feuer (B+) and will be posting grades for City Council President Herb Wesson this Sunday and Mayor Eric Garcetti the following Sunday. Our City is facing many difficult issues, ranging from a lagging economy, relatively high…

What LA Really Needs: A Part-time City Council and a Part-time Mayor!

Dennis Zine
JUST THE FACTS-There are so many serious and pressing problems facing the City of Los Angeles and few if any real solutions are being proposed or implemented by our elected and appointed leaders at City Hall. I will start with the current city budget. Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had a $7.7 billion total budget in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.…

Why Don’t the City’s Women Managers Hire More Women?

Denyse Selesnick
MY TURN-Perusing the web is a little like the soap operas of yesteryear. You get suckered in! One link leads to another link and then one is exposed to a barrage both facts and idiocy. The reason for this discussion was my attending a July Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils (VANC) meeting with the Department of Water and Power. General…

Cleaning Up LA City Hall: ‘It’s What’s Legal That’s the Problem’

Bob Gelfand
GELFAND’S WORLD-Everyone understands that developers own our city government. Sure, there are some officials here and there who are upright and independent, but recent history shows that the developers typically get their way in spite of public opposition. Whether it is a zoning change for an office tower or the required permits for a new mall,…

Not So Fast LA! Let’s Consider the Real Costs of Hosting the Olympics before We Jump In

Greg Nelson
SPORTS POLITICS-On Monday, Boston withdrew from its offer to be the nation’s bidder for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. In January, Los Angeles finished second to Boston when the U.S. Olympic Committee made its decision. After Boston was selected to polish up its bid before submitting it to the International Olympic Committee for a final decision,…

Party Crashing for Political Access: Schwarzenegger and My Pantsuit

Charlotte Laws
CALIFORNIA ACCESS POLITICS-Party crashing—or gate-crashing, as it is sometimes called—is an art form that I stumbled upon as a teen. I taught myself how to finagle into any event, anywhere, anytime. It required being part private eye, part actress and part chutzpah machine. I had to think outside of the box, throw myself into the role, and whip my…


Reynolds Rap Video: Joey has hope for the pope in Philly.

Art or Ad? LA’s mural law written in gray ink

Escape the Room-Conan goes for the record … and the laffs

LADWP Rates Overview







A Federalist Approach to Gay Marriage May Be Fashionable … It’s also Sad

HAS OBAMA GIVEN UP ON ONE AMERICA? - The debate over gay marriage pits two visions of America against each other, and I worry that the least enlightened one, bolstered by President Obama, is carrying the day.

I am not talking about the issue of whether marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples, mind you, but about the timeless question of whether we are to be one cohesive nation whose citizens enjoy the same “privileges and immunities” throughout—or whether, by contrast, we are to be a patchwork of states and communities whose residents’ individual rights vary according to their local community’s prevailing “standards.”

Earlier this month, the president told ABC News that he is personally in favor of gay marriage but wants the issue resolved by states. That’s deeply unsatisfying. It’s illogical for the nation’s first African-American president, a former Harvard Law Review editor and constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago, to say that the right of gays to marry whomever they want is a clear matter of equality and due process but then leave it up to the states to go their own ways. Good luck with that, if you’re a same-sex couple wanting to get married in Alabama.

President Obama was quick to say in his interview that the definition of marriage (like the issue of slavery in the first decades of our nation, I might add) has historically been a state prerogative. Never mind that in 1967 the Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage, holding that the ban violated the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Writing for a unanimous majority, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, “Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival.” The Constitution, Warren added, required that “the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious discriminations.” In other words: Buzz off, states.

Both competing visions of social cohesion—the national one and the communitarian one—have long co-existed in tension (“tension” being a polite euphemism to cover a brutal civil war as well). Our Founding Fathers subscribed to the belief that being an American transcended one’s narrower state identity while still bequeathing us a nation in which some states outlawed slavery and others allowed it to flourish.

The Civil War’s outcome, enshrined in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution, appeared to have settled the matter for good. We would no longer remain what the Chinese in a far different context have recently called “one country, two systems.” Liberty, freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness were now going to mean the same thing in Alabama as they did in Vermont.

The South’s states’ rights mantra proved more resilient than anticipated, however, and it took a concerted effort by liberals, leveraging the power of the Supreme Court and the Congress, to restore a sense that we are one nation, undivided, whose citizens should enjoy the same rights and protections, regardless of state boundaries.

The Warren Court’s jurisprudence was the highest expression of national cohesion, and it was echoed at the time by the muscular nationalism of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. “There is no issue of states’ rights or national rights,” President Johnson declared in a stirring televised pitch for his Voting Rights Act on the heels of violence in Selma, Alabama, in March of 1965. “There is only the struggle for human rights.”

Included in the speech was a nationalistic sentiment that encapsulated the era’s progressive quest to forge one America. “This is one nation,” Johnson said. “What happens in Selma and Cincinnati is a matter of legitimate concern to every American.”

Today, such a declaration rings more hollow. President Obama’s hesitation to call for a national push to enforce equality for gays—his instinct that this is a matter best left to the states—is considered sensible and wise by plenty of leading progressive thinkers and activists. States’ rights have gone bipartisan.

Today’s revitalized, bipartisan federalism is fueled by two factors. The first is the political “sorting out” of the last few decades. The nation is increasingly split into red and blue states whose politics and cultures overlap less and less. Americans self-segregate into left and right communities, consuming only one or the other’s media and entertainment, careful to filter out “the other.” Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats are endangered species. Blue states, red states; you know who you are.

As more and more Americans live surrounded by like-minded neighbors, the urge wanes to care about the prevailing norms in a community halfway across the country. If someplace else wants to round up immigrants to deport, ban gays from getting married, or allow residents to carry concealed weapons, what’s it to us? By the same token, if we want to welcome illegal immigrants, allow gays to marry, or ban guns, what’s it to them?

California is at the forefront of progressive federalism. Throughout the Bush years, California was regularly doing battle with Washington to forge its own separate path on any number of issues, from consumer protection laws to medical marijuana and environmental regulations.

That’s why an expanding range of issues, including educational standards and immigration policy, is now seen through the same prism that long defined obscenity: that of community standards. Forget about Cincinnati. Why should people living in West Hollywood concern themselves about the rights of people in Selma, or vice versa? Isn’t that a fool’s errand, whose best-case scenario will be an embrace of the lowest common denominator? Better to live and let live.

The second cause for the rise of a progressive federalism is the widespread exhaustion and unease with the role of the judiciary in enforcing constitutional rights and national standards. It’s now fashionable in liberal circles to believe that Roe v. Wade may have backfired by provoking, galvanizing and strengthening the far right for a generation to come—unnecessarily so, the theory goes, given that state legislatures were working their way, if at different speeds, towards legalizing abortion across the country. Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal justice, has made this claim.

Recently, Eric J. Segall, a law professor at Georgia State University, applied this argument to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision ordering the desegregation of schools; Segall claimed that, because the Court was too far ahead of society, the decision backfired politically. So it’s not surprising that many leading gay rights activists share a preference for legislative triumphs over courtroom wins.

To my read, though, the constitutional rights of individuals should never be compromised by political expediency or convenience or by polling of majorities to see if they are ready to stomach the protection of another’s rights. Courts don’t, and shouldn’t, have the option of avoiding judicial review because it’s politically messy.

Besides, counterfactual history is more art than science. Who knows how less polarized the abortion issue would be had the courts stayed out of it and the struggle been confined to the political arena?

And, I would add, who cares? Progressive federalism may be in fashion, but it’s a sad historical retreat. The American constitutional system is built on a non-negotiable belief that there are certain inalienable rights we possess as individuals and citizens that the state, or the prejudices of a majority, cannot wrest away from us.

Fortunately, those pesky courts are unlikely to allow this “let’s let each state decide for itself” stalemate to last indefinitely. The infamous Defense of Marriage Act (an example of conservatives tactically ditching their states’ rights fervor to advance their social agenda through Congress) is under assault in the courts, and California’s own Proposition 8 banning gay marriage has been struck down by the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court (on admittedly narrow grounds that don’t seem to apply to states that never have allowed gay marriage).

President Obama has been commended, and rightly so, for “evolving” in his thinking on whether gays should be able to commit to loved ones in marriage. Now, hopefully, he will evolve in his thinking about whether he wants to preside over one country, or two.

(Andrés Martinez is editorial director of Zócalo Public Square and vice president of the New America Foundation. Zocalo Public Square … where this article was first posted … is a living magazine that connects people to ideas and each other. A must visit.) Photo credit: Jason DeFillippo cliff1066.

Tags: Andres Martinez, Zócalo, gay marriage, President Obama, President Johnson, Federalists, Supreme Court, civil rights, equal rights, Justice Earl Warren

Vol 10 Issue 41
Pub: May 22, 2012