Skip to content

SCOTUS: How We Got Here and Where We Go

By: Scottie Thomaston, Editor at Courage California Institute’s

The Supreme Court of the United State’s term – the last in which Justice Stephen Breyer will participate – has ended. The decisions this term, along with the Court’s actions on the so-called “shadow docket” give us a preview of how the newly-formed conservative court majority will approach threats to democracy and its older precedents, which had historically protected important human rights for generations.

Across the street from the Court, in the US Congress, Republicans seem to be pushing an agenda in line with destroying precedents and important institutions as well, and voters are angry that it seems as if Republicans are the ones fighting for their regressive and disturbing agenda and Democrats are seemingly not doing enough. After all, Republicans eliminated the filibuster themselves for certain votes and they’ve worked to install Supreme Court Justices in situations where they’ve broken the rules.

And that’s important. It’s not that the six-Justice Republican majority on the Court is winning, or that Republicans in Congress are winning and pushing even more dangerous ideas and policies, it’s that their agenda’s main successes have been destroying the very idea that institutions like Congress or the Court can even represent everyone. Policies like universal healthcare, voting rights, the Equality Act, and gun reform are popular in the United States while Congress and the Court’s popularity is fading. And that seems to be because conservatives are only interested in making it look like we’re being failed by our votes.

The Court’s decisions on voting rights and Congress’ inability to pass updated voting rights legislation only add to this sense that our institutions don’t work. The Court continues to gut what’s left of the Voting Rights Act and states pass voting rights laws that just get worse. The Court’s decisions make it hard for our votes to matter depending on where we live. That’s an existential threat to our democracy because it entrenches the power of a minority of conservative legislators who decide which policies to put in place.

The way forward is to recognize that Republicans’ agenda is to make us all feel hopeless, to make it feel pointless to vote or push for legislation or even to get excited anymore about the potential for change. We must fight back against all of these attempts to destroy our institutions. Democracy is supposed to work because the people are supposed to be involved in it, voting, advocating for change. It’s only not working now because the undemocratic majority in the Court, picked by Republican presidents and a Republican Congress, have deliberately locked the people out of the process and left a few rich white men in charge.

Democrats aren’t doing enough right now to show that they understand how urgent this is. They’re still working out whether to even limit the filibuster to allow a vote on reproductive rights or voting rights and, for the most part, they don’t seem too interested in expanding the Supreme Court to counteract some of the Court majority’s worst excesses.

This problem exists because the Republicans have enacted an agenda to keep us all hopeless that our institutions that were designed for us will work for us. We don’t have to let them win.