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In the wake of two jaw-dropping, yet hardly unexpected, decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in the past week, it is clearly time to remake the political lexicon in this country. For decades, the high court has been described by most political observers as “conservative,” and for much of that time, such a description was relatively apt.
Not anymore. A conservative court is one that follows precedent and limits its rulings to the issues before it. A conservative court does not make sweeping pronouncements that adversely affect the lives of millions, undermining longstanding constitutional rights or public safety. That is the work of radicals.
The current Roberts’ court, since the additions of Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett, has flipped the script at the high court, having now become the most activist, purely partisan high court in American history. And there’s a very real fear that this court will go much further in dismantling the America we have all come to know over the past century. That fear is legitimate because that has long been the goal of well-organized and well-funded entities on the radical right, such as the Federalist Society, which have helped to engineer the legal theories now being implemented by the Roberts’ court, as well as advance the legal careers of judges willing to advocate for those unorthodox views.
The Federalist Society claims it is an organization of conservatives and libertarians, but their philosophy is really little more than a mishmash of conflicting ideas that align only in the sense that they always enhance the power of corporations and white Christian evangelists, which have been the primary funders of the organization for years.
In overturning Roe v. Wade, Judge Alito, writing for the majority, rejects the notion that Americans have a constitutional right to make decisions regarding reproduction in the privacy of their own homes or doctors’ offices and argues that the issue is one that should be decided by the elected representatives of the people, as the founders intended.
Yet, the same court argues exactly the opposite whenever it fits their agenda to take America back to the 1800s.
It was the Roberts’ court, after all, that issued the infamous Citizens United decision, in which the high court went far beyond the issue at hand to rule that money equals speech and that corporations could pour unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns. That overturned decades of bipartisan legislation enacted by Congress in an effort to rein in the effects of big money on our political process. Apparently, the decisions of the elected representatives of the people didn’t fit with their mission to increase corporate power, so enacted laws were simply cast aside.
This was the same high court, prevented only by the vote of Chief Justice Roberts himself, that was almost gleeful in trying to overturn the Affordable Care Act, another piece of legislation adopted by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. They’ve taken similar positions on a wide range of similar issues, from laws on affirmative action to voting rights, in which they’re ready and eager to misuse their authority to overturn the will of elected lawmakers.
It was the same with the high court’s ruling in the recent New York gun case, where for the first time in our nation’s history, the high court determined that individuals have a right to carry guns anywhere they want, with just a few possible exceptions. It was another case where precedent and the right of elected representatives to enact laws to protect public safety, were simply wiped away to advance the court’s far-right agenda.
And it won’t stop there. This court is also expected to wipe away environmental, workplace safety, public health, and food safety laws by tearing the guts from the Administrative Procedures Act, a 1946 law that established, among other things, the process by which the laws enacted by Congress became regulations enforceable by government agencies.
All but gone with the opinion overturning Roe is the right to privacy that Americans have enjoyed for more than half a century. And in a concurring opinion, Clarence Thomas urges the court to revisit other cases that hinged on the right to privacy, including Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case which overturned a Connecticut law banning the use of contraception. In addition, Thomas puts the right to same-sex marriage on the chopping block as well as the right of same-sex couples to engage in sexual relations.
This kind of legal retrenchment, which in some cases threatens to take the country back a century or more, is unprecedented in American history. A truly radical vision of America is being unleashed by the extremist majority on the Roberts’ court and we will be living with the consequences for decades to come.
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