The Supreme Court shapes virtually every aspect of life in the United States, from whether you can marry the person you love to whether you can get health care. And for a long time now, its ideological bent has led our country in the wrong direction.
If we’re serious about fighting for progressive causes, we need to focus on the Court: who sits on it, how we choose them and how much we let politics dominate that process.
At its best, the Court is a place where the least powerful voices in our society are heard and protected, whether they’re African Americans trying to vote or get an education in the era of segregated schools and poll taxes … or women trying to make our own health decisions in the face of laws that would strip that right away.
In recent years, the Court has made a lot of high-profile decisions. Some upheld this tradition. Some tarnished it. It made same-sex marriage legal nationwide, preserved the Affordable Care Act not once but twice, and ensured equal access to education for women. But it also effectively declared George W. Bush President, cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, and overturned commonsense gun laws.
The death of Justice Scalia marked the end of an era. Now the fight over whether President Obama should nominate a replacement, as the Constitution requires, is revealing the worst of our politics. It’s the same Republican obstructionism we’ve seen since the beginning of the Obama presidency. And it’s the same disregard for the rule of the law that’s given rise to the extremist candidacies of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
President Obama has done his job. He’s nominated a distinguished and universally admired judge. Normally, the Senate would now do its job: hold hearings, consider the nomination, and vote. But Republicans say they won’t. Senator Chuck Grassley, the head of the Senate judiciary committee, says we should wait for a new president because “the American people shouldn’t be denied a voice.” But the voices of the 65 million Americans who voted to re-elect Barack Obama are being ignored right now.
This battle is bigger than just one empty seat on the court.
By Election Day, two justices will be more than 80 years old, past the court’s average retirement age. That means whoever America elects this fall could end up nominating multiple justices. Our next president will help determine the future of the court for decades to come.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. In this term alone, the court is evaluating a Texas law that would effectively end the legal right to choose for millions of women… President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which called for halting the deportation of DREAMers and undocumented parents of citizens and legal residents… whether public universities can consider race as one of many factors in building a student body… and it’s put the president’s clean power plan on hold, jeopardizing our ability to tackle climate change.
In a single term, the Supreme Court could demolish pillars of the progressive movement.
If you care about the fairness of elections, racial disparities in universities, the rights of women, or the future of our planet, you should care about who wins the presidency and appoints the next Supreme Court justices.
Conservatives know exactly how high the stakes are. For years, they’ve used aggressive legal strategies to accomplish through the courts what they’ve failed to do through legislation. Now they are fighting hard to make sure the Supreme Court includes as many right-wing justices as possible.
Think about this: What kind of justice would a President Trump appoint? He believes Muslims should be banned from entering this country because of their faith. He wants to round up 11 million immigrants and kick them out. And he says wages for working people are too high. None of these positions reflect the country we are or what our people need.
Every day, another Republican bemoans the rise of Donald Trump. They say his nomination would set their party back decades. I agree. But Donald Trump didn’t come out of nowhere. What the Republicans have sown with their extremist tactics, they are now reaping with Donald Trump’s candidacy.
When you have leaders willing to bring the whole of government to a halt to make headlines, you may just give rise to candidates who promise to do even more radical and dangerous things. And when you have a party dead-set on demonizing the president, you may just end up with a candidate who says the president never legally was the president at all.
At our best, America has united behind the ideal that everyone deserves a fair shot, no matter who we are or where we started out. And at its best, the Supreme Court has defended that ideal — like in 1954, when the court abolished segregation in our schools; in 1973, when it ruled that women have the right to make intimate health decisions for ourselves; in 1982, when it ruled that undocumented children had the right to go to school; or just last year, when it ruled that marriage equality was the law of the land.
The court can either make America a fairer place, or roll back the progress we’ve worked so hard to achieve. It depends on what the court decides. And it depends on all of us.
This election has made it absolutely clear to everyone how essential the Supreme Court is. I will keep talking about it and calling on the Senate to do its job. And I hope there will be a great chorus of voices across our land that will do the same.
It’s our Constitution. It’s our court. And it’s our future.