SIX SUPREME COURT JUSTICES IGNORE THE RULE OF LAW

The Supreme Court’s rulings over the last year have clearly shown that the six radical, reactionary justices [1] (Roberts, Alito, Barrett, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Thomas) have no coherent legal or judicial reasoning that is guiding them. They have also shown that they will ignore facts and history that don’t align with the outcomes they want to achieve. Their decisions are driven by the outcomes they desire based on their ideological and political beliefs.

(Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.)

My last three posts have covered the radical, reactionary justices’ inconsistent use of three important principles or rationales that supposedly underlie and justify their rulings:

  • Belief in a weak federal government and strong state governments (discussed in this previous post),
  • Belief in “originalism” or “textualism,” i.e., that the language and meaning of the Constitution and its amendments as and when written should be adhered to (see this previous post), and
  • Belief in the legality of laws and rights supporting practices “deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition” (see this previous post).

The six radical, reactionary justices’ rulings disregard the rule of law; they are making up their own rules, principles, and rationales as they see fit on a case-by-case basis. The rule of law requires that laws, as well as the rules and regulations that implement them, must be: [2]

  • Publicly promulgated and known,
  • Equally enforced on all persons and institutions, as well as in all similar situations, and
  • Consistently applied so results are predictable and not arbitrary.

Examples of their radical rulings include the overturning of multiple major, long-term precedents without presenting a clear, compelling principle or rationale that makes it clear the ruling is not arbitrary and will lead to predictability in future rulings by the Supreme Court and other federal and state courts. Their rulings on abortion, gun ownership, separation of church and state, and the power of executive branch agencies all overturned long-term precedents without presenting a clear, compelling principle or rationale. Therefore, these rulings appear to be arbitrary, likely to lead to unpredictable rulings in the future, and to reflect unequal enforcement of laws.

The six radical, reactionary justices’ frequent use of the so-called “shadow docket” is another example of how these justices are undermining the rule of law. In these cases, rulings are issued on an emergency basis without the presentation of arguments or a written decision presenting the rationale for the ruling. Rarely used in the past, the shadow docket is now a key part of the court’s decision-making process. Without any presentation of reasoning behind these rulings, given that many of them are clearly not in line with past precedents, they certainly appear to be legally arbitrary. Furthermore, the future implications of such rulings are unclear, therefore undermining predictability. (See this previous post for more details on the use of the “shadow docket”.)

Perhaps the most egregious of the many shadow docket rulings is the one in Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, the case over the Texas anti-abortion law that allowed private citizens to sue a provider alleged to have performed an abortion (as well as any person or entity that aided or abetted an abortion). They would receive a $10,000 bounty from the provider, person, or entity sued if they win. Any number of citizens can bring such a suit, so a provider could be hit with tens, hundreds, or even thousands of these lawsuits. Simply defending against them would bankrupt almost any provider, as would losing the lawsuits and having to pay $10,000 for each one.

The Texas law would have effectively banned abortion in the state when, at the time, the right to an abortion was a well-established constitutional right under the Roe v. Wade decision. Therefore, the law was blatantly unconstitutional. Nonetheless, five of the Supreme Court’s six radical justices refused to block the immediate implementation of the law. One of the six, Chief Justice Roberts strongly disagreed with the decision and wrote in his dissenting opinion that the ruling made a mockery of the Constitution by allowing state governments to override constitutional rights.

Many legal scholars believe that the Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson case is one of the worst decisions in Supreme Court history and will be taught to future law school students as one of a handful of examples of how judges should never behave, [3] given its dramatic consequences and its lack of compelling reasoning. This undermines the rule of law by creating substantial unpredictability and arbitrariness, in part because it allows each state to negate constitutional rights that every American should be able to rely on. [4]

One way of looking at all this is to conclude that the six radical, reactionary justices have said that we know better what is the right thing to do than doctors, scientists, regulatory experts in executive branch agencies, and all the court decisions at all levels that have gone before us. Moreover, they appear to believe that they understand and can interpret history better than historians, even though professional historians have serious debates about how to understand historical events and their effects.

Extrapolating from the Supreme Court rulings of the past year, current rights that seem possible, if not likely, to be overturned by the six radical, reactionary justices include the rights to contraception, same sex marriage, equal treatment for LGBTQ+ individuals, and marriage across racial lines. (Note that the ruling establishing the right to interracial marriage was in 1967, i.e., quite recent, and, therefore, ripe to be overturned. Note also that Justice Thomas is in an interracial marriage. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.) Also at risk under this Supreme Court are business regulations and protections for workers and consumers.

It appears that the six reactionary justices intend to return the country to rule by white men, as it was when the Constitution was written. In addition, they seem to be making conservative, Christian beliefs the policies and laws of the country (which was explicitly opposed by the writers of the Constitution and the First Amendment). The patriarchal (and even misogynistic), racist, xenophobic, and conservative Christian society they appear to envision is what former President Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) slogan has put into a sound bite for many Americans.

There are two other key elements of their vision that were not as evident in these recent rulings. First, they appear to envision a society that is a plutocracy (i.e., where wealthy elites rule), not a democracy. Second, related to this, they appear to envision a society where businesses and the private sector are dominant and government does little to regulate them – at least for businesses run by executives who are in favor with those in elected or judicial offices. [5]

This is a prescription for a return to pre-1930 America. It’s a “father knows best” autocracy or oligarchy where favored business leaders have free rein (or should that be reign) and where government is a racist theocracy. The MAGA Republicans are working to infuse this worldview into governments at all levels and into all branches of government. The radical actions of the Supreme Court, Trump, some governors, and some state legislatures, as well as the paralysis in Congress, are all indicative of their success.

My next post will identify some steps to take to fight back and reclaim the rule of law.

[1]      See this previous post for an explanation of the appropriateness of calling these six justices radical and reactionary.

[2]      Millhiser, I., 7/9/22, “The post-legal Supreme Court,” Vox (https://www.vox.com/23180634/supreme-court-rule-of-law-abortion-voting-rights-guns-epa)

[3]      Other examples of horrible Supreme Court rulings include the pro-slavery decision Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), the pro-segregation decision Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), and the Japanese-American internment decision Korematsu v. United States (1944).

[4]      Millhiser, I., 7/9/22, see above

[5]      Cox Richardson, H., 4/6/22, “Letters from an American blog,” (https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/april-6-2022)

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