Last month's Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act was just the latest move in a 150-year dance between the high court and Congress over the protections owed this country's African Americans
Ever since the War of the States, Congress and the Supreme Court have clashed over the question of civil rights. Congress would move to guarantee certain rights for black Americans and the Supreme Court would turn around and limit those rights. At other times, the Supreme Court would expand these rights only to have Congress ignore them.
An instructive example: At the Civil War’s end, Congress passed the most sweeping civil rights legislation this nation has ever seen, and the Supreme Court swiftly moved to stifle the reach of those laws. Its rulings in the late 1800s – most notable in Plessy v. Ferguson -- would usher in nearly a century of Jim Crow.
Conversely, the path to civil rights reveals points where the Supreme Court has grown impatient with Congress’ unwillingness to protect the rights of black citizens. The best known example of this, of course, was the revolutionary Brown v. Board of Education decision that dealt the knockout blow to the doctrine of separate but equal treatment for black Americans. But it would take Congress more than a decade to actually force school desegregation.
Depending on your politics and the direction of the latest ruling at any given time, the court has been either radically activist in expanding civil rights or radically activist in stepping on the legislative branch to restrict these rights.
Last month, the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the outcry against an activist court rang anew. Many criticized the ruling as an extreme example of judicial overreach. They said the 5-4 decision that broke down along ideological lines trumped Congress’ expansive constitutional authority to enact legislation to enforce the amendments guaranteeing black Americans the right to vote and equal protection under the law.
But Lawrence Goldstone, author of “Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by The Supreme Court, 1865-1903,” said in an interview that every Supreme Court Justice is an activist. The makeup of the Court has always determined its stance on civil rights.
Those on the Court claiming to be strict constructionists, he said, are living out a fantasy.
“The language of the Constitution is intentionally vague; it is such that there is no one interpretation that is obvious and clear to everyone,” Goldstone said. “You’ve got a document and you’ve got nine people who are reading the document and saying this is what I think it means. No one person has a monopoly on understanding and interpreting the Constitution. And so then it becomes political.”
When considering last month's rulings on affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act and the Defense of Marriage Act, it is useful to take the long view of the push and pull between Congress and the Supreme Court when it comes to civil rights. The long arc of history might bend toward justice, but there’s always been a lot of pendulum swinging along the way.
The market regulator claims it does not have information on surveillance, inspection and prosecution. This is an unbelievable admission since it spends over Rs50 crore of taxpayers’ money
In response to Moneylife’s Right to Information (RTI) appeal, the Indian capital market watchdog, Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has made a surprising admission: it does not have information pertaining to its surveillance, inspection and prosecution activities!
We had filed an RTI on how its state-of-the-art surveillance systems, the Integrated Market Surveillance System (IMSS) and Data Warehousing Business Intelligence System (DWBIS) fared by asking the following simple questions:
The PIO (public information officer) at SEBI, however, denied the information. The PIO on 7 May 2013, vide CPIO/AKS/AJ/325-2013/10853, stated “It is informed that the information sought by you is not available with the concerned department of SEBI.” The entire story can be accessed here.
We then filed our first appeal before the First Appellate Authority (FAA) at SEBI. In the appeal, we requested the FAA to direct the PIO to forward the RTI application to the concerned department that has the information. The FAA, however, rejected the first appeal.
Vide its order AAO/1691/RTI/07/2013, dated 5 July 2013, S Raman, the FAA stated: “I do not find any reason to disbelieve the response provided by the respondent (SEBI). In this context, I note that the Supreme Court of India in the matter of Central Board of Secondary Education & Anr Vs Aditya Bandopadhyay & Ors (Judgement dated 9 August 2011), had held that: ‘The RTI Act provides access to all information that is available and existing. But where the information sought is not a part of the record of a public authority, and where such information is not required to be maintained under any law or the rules of regulations of the public authority, the Act does not cast an obligation upon the public authority, to collect or collate such non-available information and then furnish it to an applicant.’ In view of these observations, I find that the respondent cannot be obliged to provide the information sought by the appellant through the instant query.”
It is pertinent to note that the data related to surveillance is clearly disclosed in SEBI’s annual reports. However, SEBI has published only the aggregate data but not the specific information which we had specifically asked for. The annual report does not mention how many cases were detected by the IMSS and DWBIS systems, respectively, for which it has spent so much taxpayers’ money. Why it has not disclosed this information remains a mystery.
SEBI has spent so much money on beefing up its surveillance mechanisms. It has 48 people on staff as of 31 March 2013, and has so far spent collectively over Rs50 crore of taxpayers’ money, on the state-of-the-art IMSS and DWBIS. It has also employed Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to take care of its DWBIS. Yet, there are continued cases of brazen manipulation, which is covered in every issue of Moneylife, under the ‘Unquoted’ section. You can check our unquoted section online here. Moneylife even had an exclusive cover story on the same which can be accessed here.