It’s June, which for the politically minded American means one thing above all else: It’s time to brace ourselves for another cascade of reactionary Supreme Court decisions. The one I’ll be watching most closely is Moore v. Harper, on which more below. But before we get to specific cases, let’s muse on where this court stands right now in historical terms.
Let’s call the Supreme Court what it is: an openly corrupt institution whose right-wing members are destroying its reputation because they simply do not care how the broader public sees them. They are in fact so blind to their own corruption that they don’t even recognize it when they’ve reached the point of parody. I refer here specifically to Amy Coney Barrett giving that speech pleading that the justices “aren’t a bunch of partisan hacks”—while sharing a stage with Mitch McConnell, the greatest legislative corrupter of the Supreme Court in modern history. That she couldn’t recognize the irony of that—or wait: She probably did recognize it but just didn’t give a crap.
The court’s descent—its approval rating now hovers around 40 percent, from 60 percent at the beginning of the century—has been remarked upon many times. What hasn’t been said as much is this: Its corruption is tied directly to its conservatism. I don’t mean that it’s not possible for liberals to be corrupt. But liberals would never be corrupt in the way that these right-wing justices are. They don’t believe in the law or any particular judicial philosophy, no matter what they tell us or themselves. What they do believe in is a set of policy outcomes that a huge network of right-wing activists desire.
They believe, in other words, only in ideology. So their only real loyalty is to that ideology, not to the Constitution or the law or any particular set of jurisprudential principles. And when their only real loyalty is to an ideology, and not the law or principles or tradition, then anything goes—both judicially and ethically. Rules are for other people—which Chief Justice John Roberts essentially said in his appalling recent letter to Senator Dick Durbin.
So they throw away principles, both judicial and ethical, with the same studied insouciance. Believe in states’ rights? Well, yes, until the moment that the state of Florida might have recounted votes in such a way that would have elected Al Gore over George Bush. Toss! They believe in precedent? Well, sure, until respecting precedent means protecting the right to abortion. Toss! Believe in disclosing gifts from megarich friends and upholding the standards of integrity that citizens have the right to expect from members of the country’s highest court? Sure, until they become potentially embarrassing, and they realize they don’t really have to disclose them anyway. Toss!
Clarence Thomas, as we now know thanks to Pro Publica, is one of the most unprincipled people in American public life. He embodies the moral rot of today’s American right more fully than the others, but that’s not to say he’s without competition. Brett Kavanaugh lied at his 2006 confirmation hearing to join the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals about at least two matters. Did he also lie at his hearing to join the high court, over allegations about his old boss Alex Kozinski? It sure looks that way. Did he lie about Christine Blasey Ford? I guess we’ll never know on that one, but his track record is hardly encouraging.
And who paid his credit card debts anyway? Are we ever going to find that out? Democrats, is anyone even looking? And no, it’s not too late. If they were paid in some corrupt manner, the American people have a right to know. Supreme Court justices can be impeached.
And they all lied about Roe v. Wade. In case you want to read the quotes, I collected them in this December 2021 column. All six of them lied through their teeth. Everyone in the world (well, almost everyone) knew they were lying. Yet they got away with it because they were able to hide behind the fiction that their adherence was to the law, precedent, and philosophy.
The lies, whether they’re about the law or ethics and past behavior, all come from the same place. These justices and their supporters believe they are on a mission to rescue America from people like us. There is so much more to do, and the clock is ticking. So the lies are justified. All that matters is the ideology—the outcomes. The twentieth century has to be annulled. It’s God’s work these justices are doing. And of course, anyone doing God’s work deserves to fly free on private jets and stay in $3,000-a-night bungalows.
In this term, Moore v. Harper, a gerrymandering case out of North Carolina, looms large because in the most extreme outcome, the justices could produce a ruling that would prevent state judges from overruling their legislatures on electoral outcomes. There were signs at the oral arguments that even some of the conservatives were skeptical of those arguments. We’ll know soon enough.
There’s also a pair of cases on affirmative action in college admissions. This will be interesting because the circuit court upheld the Harvard criteria being challenged in one of the cases—based on multiple previous Supreme Court rulings! But everybody thinks they’re going to kiss that goodbye. Again—toss! (And don’t think “moderate” John Roberts is going to save the day here—he’s horrible on racial questions.)
I’ve barely scratched the surface. It’s going to be a terrible month. Their decisions will be unpopular. Their approval rating will go down some more. And they won’t care. Hey Harlan, pass the Dom Pérignon.
At The New Republic, our coverage of the Supreme Court is a source of great pride. Our chief legal writer, Matt Ford, is keenly adept at understanding and describing both the legal and political fallout of court decisions. His cover story on the court last fall was as comprehensive and sharp an account as you’ll read anywhere of the steps by which Roberts lost control of the court. Regular contributor Simon Lazarus, a veteran lawyer in Washington, frequently exposes the fraudulence of the right’s constitutional interpretations and claims. Our cover package last June, “The End of Roe v. Wade,” put the anti-choice justices under the microscope. We’ve also covered, rigorously and consistently, how abortion rights played out in the midterms and the recent mifepristone battle.
But we need to do more. We desperately want to launch a Supreme Court Desk to investigate what the Supreme Court is doing, its behind-the-scenes maneuverings, and the far-reaching effects on American democracy.
This is where you come in. The new Supreme Court Desk will cost just $25,000 to launch, but we need to raise it quickly, as the Supreme Court’s important new decisions are being written as you read this. Twenty-five thousand dollars is a very achievable goal—but only if readers like you do your part.
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