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VOICES

How a Broken Supreme Court Impacted My Community

In this June 20, 2016, file photo, runners leave the Supreme Court in Washington with papers announcing court decisions. The Supreme Court is set to begin its new term as it ended the last one, down one justice and ideologically deadlocked on a range of issues. The absence of a ninth justice since Antonin Scalia’s death in February has hamstrung the court in several cases and forced the justices to look for less contentious issues on which they are less likely to divide by 4-4 votes.

CREDIT: AP/Alex Brandon, File

On October 3, the Supreme Court began a new term, during which it will hear cases involving pivotal issues including disparaging trademarks, insider trading, and redistricting. Unfortunately, the court remains fractured, as Senate Republicans continue their unprecedented obstruction of Chief Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on March 16—less than a month after Scalia’s passing. As I stood with fellow progressives on the steps of the Supreme Court when it issued its decisions last term, I saw firsthand the devastating effect this obstruction can and will continue to have on our country’s most vulnerable communities, including my own.

During its previous term, the eight-member Supreme Court’s failure to carry out justice was made evident in the case of U.S. v. Texas. In this case, President Obama’s executive actions on immigration—DAPA and expanded DACA—that would have protected 3.7 million Americans from deportation, were called into question. Although I was born in the United States, I was brought up by one of the most unique immigrant communities within the Asian diaspora—that of Sikh Americans. The Sikh American community has time and again received national attention for its contributions to American society, whether through the arts, agriculture, military service, or humanitarian relief. It’s been fascinating to watch my own Sikh-American community in North Carolina grow from a handful of families to hundreds of congregants over the past two decades. And as our community has grown, our contributions to our local community have increased substantially. Our gurudwara, or place of worship, now holds annual blood drives in collaboration with the Red Cross, organizes collection drives to benefit the homeless, and works with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for those in need.

While data is not available on how many Sikh immigrants would have been affected by President Obama’s deferred immigration action programs, nearly 166,000 Indian and Pakistani immigrants would have been eligible to apply under the DAPA and expanded DACA programs. For us, DAPA and expanded DACA represented an opportunity for undocumented Sikh immigrants, both in my local community and across the country, to come out of the shadows and contribute freely to society. To do so is more than simply a logical aspiration for my fellow Sikhs; it is a tenant of the Sikh faith. Selfless service, or seva, is among the most highly valued pillars of Sikhism – an act we are all expected to perform.

While the Supreme Court’s non-decision left communities like ours in limbo, we were reminded of the Court’s ability to provide justice just four days later when it ruled in favor of women’s reproductive rights, in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which called into question a statewide targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law in Texas. Women and women of color represent another group who are especially reliant on the courts for the protection of our rights and freedoms. One of these individuals is Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old South Asian woman from Indiana who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after inducing her own abortion last year. Had the Supreme Court allowed the TRAP law to stand, millions of individuals in Texas—a state with one of our nation’s five largest South Asian communities—would have been forced to drive hundreds of miles to visit abortion providers, an impossibility for women who can’t afford to take off enough time from work.  Such an extreme lack of access to abortion providers would have undoubtedly resulted in a historic spike in self-induced abortions, and more cases like that of Patel.

While such a situation was thankfully avoided, a different result could have brought as much devastation as the U.S. v. Texas non-decision. And as the Supreme Court begins its new term, still one justice short, non-decisions are potential outcomes for every case the court will hear this year. On July 19, the wait from nomination to confirmation reached 125 days—the longest wait of its kind in the history of our country. Whatever decisions the Supreme Court issues this term, it is the youngest of us who will live with them the longest. The Senate has decided that our generation will bear this burden. And while it’s easy to feel helpless, particularly as young people, women, and religious and racial minorities, we can only begin countering the injustices we face when we become aware of them, and do what we can to make our voices heard.

When the rights of women, young people, and racial and religious minorities are called into question, we need nine qualified judges to speak for us. We may not be able to write the rules ourselves, or make the big decisions—not yet, at least. But the steps of the Supreme Court are ours to flock, just as letters to our Senators asking them to do their jobs are ours to write, and the word on the injustices we face is ours to spread. By doing what we can to be aware and visible, we can show the world that we know and care, and will speak out about the injustices inflicted unto our communities by lawmakers who are empowered by our silence.

It is unfortunate and unfair that that we must fight for our freedom in a way that the majority does not. But this is also the precedent in a nation in which forgotten communities have historically put tireless efforts and noble sacrifices into making their voices heard.

My fellow Sikh Americans, women, and young people: this legacy is ours to continue.

Want to tell your story on how the Supreme Court vacancy affects your life? Share your story here.

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