Culture Wars in the United States

by Tyler Lawrence

Culture War Cases

The Supreme Court handles many cases that challenge the culture wars. Four cases that have had a significant impact are; Agostini v. Felton (1997), Fisher v. University of Texas (2013), Gratz v. Bollinger (2003) and Romer v. Evans (1996).

Agostini v. Felton

A New York parochial school board challenged a District Court's upholding of a twelve year-old Supreme Court Decision in Aguilar v. Felton, prohibiting public school teachers from teaching in parochial schools. New York City had offered to help needy students in private schools by sending public school teachers to tutor them after school. New York was forced to offer remedial help to students through 'local educational agencies' and parochial school students did not need to attend public schools in order to be eligible for the assistance. Arguments were presented on April 15th, 1997. On June 23rd, 1997, in a 5-4 Court Decision, the Court allowed public school teachers to tutor private school students in their private schools, even if the schools were primarily religious in nature.

Fisher v. University of Texas

Fisher filed suit against the university and other related defendants, claiming that the University of Texas' use of race as a consideration in admission decisions was in violation of the equal protection cause of the Fourteenth Amendment and a violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. Abigail N. Fisher, a Caucasian female, applied for undergraduate admission to the University of Texas in 2008. Fisher was not in the top ten percent of her class, so she competed for admission with other non-top ten percent in-state applicants. The University of Texas denied Fisher's application. On the 15th of July, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit announced its divided decision in the case of Fisher vs. the University of Texas at Austin, which had been remanded to the Fifth Circuit by the Supreme Court in the previous summer. In a 2-1 decision, the Fifth Circuit found in favor of UT Austin. In its decision, the majority wrote, “It is equally settled that universities may use race as part of a holistic admissions program where it cannot otherwise achieve diversity.” The court continued, “This interest is compelled by the reality that university education is more the shaping of lives than the filling of heads with facts — the classic assertion of the humanities.”

Gratz v. Bollinger

Gratz v. Bollinger was a United States Supreme Court case regarding the University of Michigan undergraduate affirmative action admissions policy. The petitioners, Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher, both white residents of Michigan, applied for admission to the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA). Gratz applied for admission in the fall of 1995 and Hamacher in the fall of 1997. Both were subsequently denied admission to the university. In a 6–3 decision announced on June 23, 2003, Chief Justice Rehnquist writing for the Court, ruled the University's point system's "predetermined point allocations" that awarded 20 points to underrepresented minorities "ensures that the diversity contributions of applicants cannot be individually assessed" and was therefore unconstitutional.

Romer v. Evans

Romer v. Evans is a landmark United States Supreme Court case dealing with sexual orientation and state laws. The case was argued on October 10, 1995. On May 20, 1996 the Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that a state constitutional amendment in Colorado preventing protected status based upon homosexuality or bisexuality did not satisfy the Equal Protection Clause. The majority opinion in Romer stated that the amendment lacked "a rational relationship to legitimate state interests", and the dissent stated that the majority "evidently agrees that 'rational basis' - the normal test for compliance with the Equal Protection Clause - is the governing standard". The state constitutional amendment failed rational basis review.

The Supreme Court's Future

Possible vacancies and their effect

Federal judges are appointed for life and are some of the most powerful officials in American government. Currently there are four liberals, four conservatives and one swing vote. The two most likely to consider stepping down are Ruth Bader Ginsburg & Antonin Scalia. If Ginsberg stepped down while Obama is in office, another liberal would be appointed which would not change the dynamics. The true change would be if a conservative resigned while a Democratic President is in the White House as it would change the liberal votes and create tremendous change.

What is the effect of the Culture Wars

The culture war has been going on for years and while some believe that there are many different types of culture wars, the most popular belief is the struggle between the values considered conservative and liberal, often defined as the Republicans vs. Democrats. The wars are disagreements in beliefs that create a battle for to win, as opposed to understand and compromise.