Over the course of eight days, the conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court showed they are willing to ignore precedent, override Congressional intent and bend the Constitution to impose their blinkered right-wing views.
In a series of controversial rulings, the majority has done real damage to America. That damage can — and must be — blunted, but it cannot easily be undone. This court has spoken and people will suffer.
The court’s first full term with a conservative supermajority ended last week with a decision that severely limits the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to control greenhouse gas emissions, curbing the government’s power to combat the existential threat of climate change.
The court did not have to weigh in on this case. The matter at hand, the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would have targeted carbon emissions at coal-fired power plants, never went into effect and was repealed under the Trump administration.
The court’s decision was instead a preemptive strike meant to hamstring any new regulations, limiting the president’s power and mocking legislative intent with a disingenuously narrow reading of the Clean Air Act.
“The Court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the minority dissent. “I cannot think of many things more frightening.”
Clearly Kagan was limiting her imagination to the case at hand, because the court had no trouble producing alarming rulings this term or applying whatever shifting logic was needed to produce the results the majority wanted.
In quick succession, the court interpreted the Second Amendment to further limit reasonable efforts at gun safety, striking down a century-old New York law that restricted the carrying of a concealed handgun outside the home. In overturning federal abortion protections, the court found that the Constitution only protects fundamental rights that are either explicitly listed or are deeply rooted in our nation’s history.
When weakening the separation of church and state in a Washington state case, the court ruled the Bremerton School District violated Coach Joe Kennedy’s First Amendment rights to free speech and religious expression. This ruling completely ignores not only the facts of the case — this was a 50-yard line spectacle, not a quiet, personal prayer — but fails to protect students’ First Amendment right against the religious coercion inherent in the coach’s actions.
Of course, the nation’s highest court is far from infallible and bad decisions happen. Over its history, justices have found ways to rationalize everything from eugenics and forced sterilization to racial segregation and internment of citizens. However, it would be naive to believe that the poor jurisprudence on display this term was a one-off aberration.
Instead, this will likely be the court’s posture for the foreseeable future — compounding dangerous rulings that build, error upon error, into an America where the narrow views of a small subset of conservatives dictate the law of the land.
Justice Clarence Thomas’ troubling concurrence in the decision to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion, in which he took aim at LGBTQ rights and contraception, has been dismissed by some as the musings of a single justice, instead of a road map for the majority’s priorities. That attitude seems perilously foolish at a time when almost half a century of “settled law” on women’s rights can disappear in an instant.
Cases regarding affirmative action and the rights of same-sex couples are already on the docket for the court’s next term. Most disturbing was the announcement last week that the court will hear the case of Moore v. Harper, which could grant legislatures almost limitless power over state election law, threatening democracy through unchecked voter suppression and gerrymandering.
States such as Washington have begun to act and must continue aggressively to defend individual rights and freedoms. But much as in the case of fighting against climate change, anything short of a united effort is bound to flounder.
The court’s decisions this term are out of step with a majority of the American people, who have said time and again they are united in their support for sensible gun control, abortion access and taking climate action.
The conservative majority seems intent on Balkanizing the country, on building a house divided. Americans must work together to ensure that it is the court’s actions that cannot stand.