It’s no longer the one defined by life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
On this year’s Independence Day, we have fewer freedoms, we are less safe, we are no longer governed by the majority, and authoritarian impulses are all around us. For the most cynical among us, yesterday’s mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, was emblematic of where we are as a country today.
July 4 was the day on which our national identity was born. Historians are likely to say that in the last 10 days of June, just in time for Independence Day, America quit being America.
It was in those few days that the U. S. Supreme Court eroded rights thought inviolate and issued opinion after opinion that remolded the United States to reflect their own political agenda – a country where women, not guns, are regulated; where a major way to fight climate change was blown up; where the Christian religion was injected and elevated into the public sphere on the job and in the use of public funds; where government allows the discrimination of some people; and where the most narrow-minded among us have now been invited by a Supreme Court justice to file lawsuits that can reduce even more individual freedoms for women and LGBTQ+ Americans.
It is the tyranny of the minority.
I wrote on May 16, 2022, The Age of Minority Rule and Culture Wars. That post is about how the makeup of the U.S. Senate and the electoral college magnifies states with smaller populations and heightens policies that run contrary to what the majority of Americans believe.
When it comes to the Supreme Court, it is even a minority of a minority.
Catholics represent about 20% of all Americans, and yet, they represent at least 83% of the Republican-appointed members of the Supreme Court. It may actually be 100% since Neil Gorsuch was raised Catholic and it’s unclear how he considers himself today.
In other words, there is a lack of religious diversity on the Court, but more to the point, the Catholicism represented there reflects the influence of wealthy right wing interests who see Catholic identity as equivalent to a libertarian view of the world.
They certainly aren’t Catholics proud of the role the church played in the labor union movement, the New Deal, pacifism, commitment to the poor, opposition to capital punishment, and other social movements. Instead, wealthy influencers, some with connections to the Federalist Society, see no conflict between their religious beliefs and sublimating the poor to the marketplace, pushing voter suppression, and risking internal division within the Church with a highly charged debate about who should be able to receive the Eucharist.
Instead, the Catholics on the Court spring from the more evangelical, charismatic parts of the church. Best examples are Justice Clarence Thomas’ true believer posturing and Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s deep connection to The People of Praise, a fundamentalist group that takes a patriarchal view and consider husbands as head of the house and must be obeyed.
The Supreme Court is not remolding the United States to reflect the Catholic Church but to reflect a small, rigid part of the Church that has remarkably become the arbiters of what rights Americans will have.
Abandoning American Values
In a period of about 10 days, the Supreme Court revoked the half-century right to an abortion, they injected more guns into a society plagued by mass shootings, they crushed the wall between church and state, and they have removed a key way to fight climate change.
In just a few days, in reversing what was long ago accepted as 20th century constitutional law, the Court exposed the façade that it is in fact a political organization committed to changing the U.S.’s social and political direction.
The last half of the 20th century has been described as the great expansion of individual liberties, but that feels long ago. While talking about his respect for the sanctity of Senate tradition, Mitch McConnell manipulated its processes and ignored tradition to pack the court with today’s right wing zealots.
There was a time when he railed about “activist judges,” but these days, he’s gotten the ones he wanted so he’s eliminated the term from his vocabulary.
Most disturbing of all is that his Supreme Court’s rulings shape an America that makes straight White men feel in charge again and protect their country from the other, notably LGBTQ+, Black voters, city dwellers, blue states, and anything progressive.
In this way, we are not moving toward a country that lives out our e pluribus unum aspirations but instead reverted us to a modern version of separate but equal.
A Patriarchal View of America
While the six radical Republican justices genuflect at originalism, they cherry pick the founders’ opinions while ignoring others, such as Thomas Jefferson’s harsh words about the risk of undue corporate influence as they decide time after time on the side of corporations. Jefferson wrote that Americans must “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trail of strength and bid defiance to the laws of their country.”
Meanwhile, Justice Samuel Alito quotes a judge from the 1600s in his ruling about Roe, a judge that sentenced witches to death and defended husbands’ right to rape their wives.
For many of us, originalism was always a cover for what the justices already wanted to do – turn back the clock.
Somehow, they expect the rest of us to be respectful of a time when women had no rights and African Americans were property. Considering their reverence for that patriarchal, chauvinistic time when only White men had power and influence, it should be no surprise that the Supreme Court’s rulings default to a time when “a more perfect union” was one ruled by and for White men.
The Court has decimated the united states and in its place, it has ordained us to be a Balkanized country where no one can speak for the whole and where equality is no longer the glue holding us together as a people.
Headed in the Wrong Direction
Put simply, the Supreme Court is taking us on a race to the bottom.
Women are again property of the state, which can mandate decisions about their own bodies. The forced-birth states that ban abortion, even if it’s a 10-year-old pregnant from a rape, can now brag to be on equal footing with Libya, Iraq, Syria, Uganda, and Venezuela.
While the Court said states have ultimate authority – at least for now (states will file lawsuits that are even more draconian) – about women’s reproductive decisions, it said that states cannot even pass laws that require gun owners to assert why they need a gun for protection.
The court’s decision on the football coach that prayed with his players on the field after a game called it a private prayer, ignoring the fact that he invited others, that he had accepted public employment and the limits that are part of it, and that his invitation to his players to pray with him was a form of coercion. The ruling was ultimately an attack on a foundational belief of the U.S. and sides with extremist evangelicals. The decision came in the wake of another ruling that public funding for school vouchers must be shared with religious schools.
A gift to corporate mega-donors to the Republican Party and to the justices’ confirmation campaigns, particularly carbon-based industries, came with the ruling that limited the EPA from regulating many power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions. It was a giant blow to efforts to combat climate change at the same time as new reports conclude that we are at the tipping point in reversing negative trend lines in global warming. Most disturbing of all the basis for the ruling opens the door for corporations to challenge all regulatory oversight.
Because of the Supreme Court, we are apparently now ruled by canon law which when added to the partisan nature of the Court’s opinions means that it is likely to only get worse and threaten the heart of democracy.
The Enemy Within
After all of these disastrous rulings, the radical right supermajority of the Supreme Court threatens one more, agreeing to hear a case about the “independent state legislature theory.” Its ruling could encourage yet more partisan gerrymandering and even allow state legislatures the authority to set election rules and to even declare winners and losers.
In other words, the court is willing to hear a case that at its most basic would give state legislatures the authority to ignore state law and state court rulings on state constitutional law. Just like Donald Trump’s lawyers always wanted.
It would be an extraordinary attack on democracy as we know it, and normally, we would assume no Supreme Court could accept the theory that would make Donald Trump’s dream of insurrection come true with legislatures that could have ignored the election results and put him back in the White House.
Then, too, this is a Supreme Court that sees no conflict of interest in Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginni, who conspired with right wing lawyers to argue ftor the Big Lie, contending that ultimate authority for who won elections rests with legislatures.
If the Court rules in favor of “independent state legislature theory” it’s impact would upend all that we’ve understood about fair elections. It would eliminate court reviews of gerrymandered maps, it could eliminate courts’ authority to uphold voter protections, and taken to the extreme, it could allow state legislators to reject presidential election results it doesn’t like.
While we would expect a normal Supreme Court to reject this kind of controversial, divisive theory, here’s the thing: the six radical Republicans are true believers and they don’t care how their rulings deeply divide the country. They don’t care about the plummeting public opinion about them and the Court. All they care about is reshaping the United States.
It is hard to grasp that our highest court has become a political vehicle with no respect for its history, its traditions, and its damaging impact on the nation. Only six years ago, it was impossible to imagine that a central institution for our country could today be its most deadly and dangerous enemies.