Wake-up Call: Supreme Court Shows Its Hand

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To understand what is going on here requires only the application of Occam’s Razor: the simplest explanation is the correct one. What we thought the Republicans were doing, right in front of our eyes, was in fact what they were doing. 

To the Republicans, there is no truth, and there are no principles; there is only power. They have shown us over and over again that they will say and do anything to gain power and then to retain it. The Republicans understand that time is against them: they and their policy positions are deeply unpopular with younger generations, and when enough older Republicans die off, they will be out of power – probably permanently. As that day inches closer, they have become a party desperately clinging to power and willing to go to increasingly extreme measures to hold on. 

While in theory it should be difficult in a true democracy to create the kind of structural barriers that would extend their power beyond their own representative demographics, it’s frightening to see how effective Republicans have been at erecting exactly this kind of long-term structural advantage. Gerrymandered districts. Voter suppression. Maintaining the Electoral College, and the two-per-state system of representation in the Senate that disproportionately empowers small Red states. And, of course, stacking federal courts – including and most notably the U.S. Supreme Court – with hard-right Republicans with lifetime appointments.

Any shred of belief that the courts are immune to this can now be safely discarded; they are deeply complicit. The Supreme Court, with its now 6-3 Republican majority, is busy enshrining the Republicans’ ill-gotten structural advantage in case law precedents that may take another 50 years or more to dislodge, just as they are now poised to toss out Roe vs. Wade 50 years after that decision was handed down. 

They have allowed gerrymandering to persist and have gutted the Voting Rights Act. They have, step by step, allowed religion to creep into government, giving the hard-right Christian Republican base a stronger foothold in local, state, and federal governments. And most insidiously, they have allowed Republicans to use the halls of government to keep women and poor people disempowered, disenfranchised, uneducated, unrepresented, and poor.

Along the way they have rediscovered what every populist dictator throughout history has known: the truth is their enemy. They have gutted our schools, fighting against improved curriculum at every step, banning books, and placing curriculum and textbook selection in the hands of partisan hacks who will ensure that even mathematics is taught in a way that reinforces their preferred narrative. They have systematically attacked and discredited the news media, undermining trust in the “fourth estate” to give voice to credible dissent. And they have brazenly lied, time and time again, while ensuring that there are no consequences for being caught lying.

The surest evidence that the Republicans have co-opted the courts is the number of times their judicial appointees have lied, openly, as they sought confirmation. Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said that they considered Roe v. Wade “settled law.”  Even Alito and Barrett claimed that they were not inclined to overturn it. 

Our mistake (and apparently Sen. Susan Collins’) was in believing that — when faced with whether to tell the truth about their intent when doing so would almost certainly ensure they would not be confirmed to the Supreme Court — principles would win out over power. Those days are gone. As Justice Thomas’ recent actions have reminded us, the Supreme Court justices are not bound by a formal code of ethics. Don’t believe for one moment that is an accident, nor that it is an oversight that will be corrected anytime soon.

The apparent decision to throw out Roe vs. Wade in its entirety is both a quiet “campaign promise” kept by the Republican justices, and a step to ensure that the Christian right remains fervently and loyally Republican – regardless of what their elected officials and judges say and do. It is exactly what it seems, and it shreds the last tatters of hope that the courts are remaining above the political fray.

We should all expect from this point on that the Supreme Court’s rulings will be even more politically motivated – with less effort to obscure it. They will continue to support voter disenfranchisement efforts so long as doing so props up Republicans. They will create more avenues to break down the separation of church and state. And, if it comes to it, they will find a way to swing a Presidential election in favor of a Republican.  They have no reason not to, since they have now explained to us in no uncertain terms who they are: they are liars who prioritize political power over principle and democracy.

As Benjamin Franklin presciently feared, we have failed to keep our republic and our democracy. It no longer serves the people it was established to represent. The Senate is a dysfunctional mess. Our elections have been undermined, as has the free press. Our courts have become just one more tool for the powerful to retain power. 

At the moment, our best hope for recovering and reforming our government is if this extreme Roe Vs. Wade ruling serves as a wake-up call for women across the country to rise up and vote out of office the people who paved the way for it. Women now make up the majority of voters; the power is theirs if they can rise above the forces that have been amassed to take their power away. It won’t be easy or cheap, and the forces in power will do everything they can to prevent it – and to overturn it if it does happen. But with every passing election cycle democracy slips further away from us; the urgency to right our ship of state has never been greater.

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Kevin is a city hall reporter and the founder of SCC Insight, a web site focused on providing independent news and analysis of the Seattle City Council and Seattle City Hall in general. In a previous life, he worked for 26 years in the tech industry in a variety of positions but most notably as the COO of the research division at Microsoft. Kevin volunteers at the Woodland Park Zoo, where he is also on the Board of Directors. He is also the Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of Harvey Mudd College.

19 COMMENTS

  1. This post , or rant, ignores the importance of the central question in the case before the court.
    Was Roe v. Wade correctly grounded in the Constitution?
    There is a legitimate argument that it was not, hence RBJ’s uncertainty about the matter.
    It is only the political parties that gain from keeping before the Court, as it has allowed them to frighten the troops and raise large sums.
    The law pertaining to abortion is much better decided by elected officials, state or federal. Better yet, by referendum, as done in Washington so many years ago.

    • Angry old men playing to the Christian Right have no business deciding what women in difficult circumstances can and should do with an unwanted pregnancy. The no-exclusions provisions for rape and incest are particularly vile as they dismiss the violence committed against women and girls as irrelevant. None of the proponents of this assault on women’s rights can be called “pro-life.” They are only pro-life to the point of birth. No Republicans in Congress have supported any post-birth assistance to women who can’t afford health insurance, day care or other support so they can provide for these unwanted children by going back to work. Women of means will have no problem getting abortions in other states or countries. Only the poor will suffer from this egregious (forthcoming) decision by justices who lied to get confirmed.

  2. Kevin, a bit one sided aren’t you ? You lost me at “they are liars who prioritize political power over principle and democracy”.
    BTW, I must request you re-edit this piece so that we do not confuse the noun ‘woman’ with our currently accepted ‘birth human”.

    • Since you are “lost”, allow this refresher to assist your reading comprehension:

      “The surest evidence that the Republicans have co-opted the courts is the number of times their judicial appointees have lied, openly, as they sought confirmation. Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said that they considered Roe v. Wade “settled law.” Even Alito and Barrett claimed that they were not inclined to overturn it.”

      They lied, under oath. They need to be impeached and locked up for perjury.

  3. I am so tired of sick and tired of hearing about the Constitution and abortion. The Constitution, drafted by a lot of white male slaveowners in the 1700s, and which specifically excludes women, does not similarly concern those who’ve watched the erosion of checks and balances under Donald Trump. There are men who will never accept that women own their bodies, that they have a fundamental right to privacy, and a fundamental right to decide what is best for their health. These men thundering about women will never know the agony of an unwanted pregnancy.

    • If what I read is correct, the issue is how many weeks – an unwanted pregnancy is/will be available. The extremist on both sides of this issue ruin the debate.

  4. Roe was not only precedent, but that precedent was later confirmed/refined in Casey. Alito is overturning two landmark precedents

    As to the central questions before the court, I would refer you to the petition filed with the Court. http://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/19/19-1392/145658/20200615170733513_FINAL%20Petition.pdf

    The petition raises the question of viability as a “bright line” rule, but addressing that does not require tossing Roe and Casey in their entirety as Alito intends.

  5. Alito proposed doing away with any time period and instead said that the proper way to evaluate any level of restriction on abortion – including a complete ban – is rational basis. He then told Republican lawmakers some of the justifications that the court would find met the rational basis standard, handing them a recipe for enacting and litigating bans on abortion.

    • Tell me what is a birthing human’s health issue that we keep hearing ?

      Alioto is 1 voice………Besides the case there ruling on has a time period.

    • Well written piece. While I agree, on the principal, I do think that the Senate giving equal representation is a good thing. It’s nice to know that Hawaii has as strong a voice as the states of Texas and Florida.

  6. A right to privacy seems fundamental to any honest reading of the constitution, unless you just regard such notions as a given for the context in which the white males wrote the document. Now that casting aside any such inconvenient ideas impeding the fomenting of power by the right wing, it is what will be done, principals being only an inconvenience. The far right is only about power, they have nothing else.

  7. It’s high time for God to euthanize all the evil people, starting with criminals, Republicans, and Russians.

  8. Will this ruling be a wake up call for women? I’m not sure. Women often have been our own worst enemies — Phyllis Schlafly, Marjorie Taylor Greene and her ilk, and of course Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Look at all the women at the front lines of protests against reproductive justice and those who historically have opposed the ERA. I am more hopeful about the younger generation and your point that «Republicans understand that time is against them: they and their policy positions are deeply unpopular with younger generations, and when enough older Republicans die off, they will be out of power – probably permanently. »

  9. Constitutional law principle #1: The Supreme Court has always been “political.” And for conservative – textual – interpreters of the Constitution, the draft decision is long overdue. And stare decisis is overturned, especially one so eroded over time as Roe v. Wade.

    And then there are the practical consequences, which the Court frequently considers but found unpersuasive. It will create an administrative nightmare as States write different rules and regulations limiting, or allowing, abortion. And the war isn’t over, only the battlefield has changed. Neither “Planned Parent” nor “Right to Life” will surrender their causes.

    Politically, an early release – “leak” -likely benefits Republicans as it “lets the air out of the balloon,” before the mid-term elections. Whoever leaked it may well have had that in mind. Good politics; a horrendous blow to the Court’s integrity.

  10. This is a side issue, but Kevin, I’m not sure that your demographic argument that the Republican Party is facing long-term extinction is true. It is true that their core base of small town and rural white voters, and in particular non-college educated white voters, is shrinking fairly rapidly as a percentage of the electorate. It’s also true, as you point out, that millennials are far more ideologically progressive than, say, my generation (Gen X).

    But the Democratic Party has its own cultural and demographic problems. We’ve increasingly become an “urban archipelago” party. In the ’90s, when Bill Clinton won two presidential elections, he won roughly half of the 3,100 counties in the US. In 2008, Obama won the presidency but won only about 875 counties; in 2012 he defeated Romney but won less than 700 counties. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but only prevailed in about 500 counties. In 2020, Biden won the presidency and racked up a record-shattering 81 million votes but also only won about 500 counties.

    That is a big problem, in part because of the structural reasons you cite and that the Republicans increasingly rely upon to maintain their power despite winning the allegiance of fewer voters overall. But the bigger problem (I’m a broken record on this) is that the D’s retreat into blue urban bastions has increasingly committed the party to a set a cultural commitments associated with the college educated. There are now some clear indications from the 2020 and 2021 elections that non-college educated minority voters, particularly Latino voters, are starting to shift away from the Democratic Party over these cultural differences.

    If those warning signs turn into a full blown trend, watch out. Only about 40 percent of the American electorate has a four-year college degree. If the Ds become the party of college-educated cosmopolitans concentrated in blue urban areas (like King County), that will eventually wipe out our numerical advantage. And when you layer the structural advantage Republicans already have due to their geographical spread, that spells long-term electoral armageddon for us, not them.

    All of that said, these things have a way of recalibrating over time, and predictions of one side of the other gaining some sort of massive advantage over time need to be taken with a big grain of salt. That the two parties have remained so closely divided for so long is likely not a coincidence.

    • Sandeep, I agree with you that the Republicans’ loss is not necessarily the Democrats’ gain. Beyond that, you are reinforcing my original point: the Republicans see their demographic future and are looking to leverage and make permanent every structural advantage they can muster — and overturning Roe vs. Wade to lock up the loyalty of the Christian right is part of that plan.

  11. I’m reminded in these conversations of a familiar saying from a former mentor, the late Ancil Payne, who insisted that the bedrock foundation of a democracy is an informed citizenry.
    He never anticipated a time like the present, when “informed” can mean both truth and falsehood depending on the myriad daily digital fountains of both. Given that truth, and the structural impediments of the GOP outlined here, it’s hard not to despair about the future.

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