Supreme Court, Justice
"Equal Justice Under Law." Photo credit: David Staedtler / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Supreme Court’s decisions are supposed to be based on the law. So why does this current right-wing majority always seem to choose winners and losers based on conservative ideology?

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In its history, the Supreme Court has gotten plenty of decisions horribly wrong. However, in most cases, these errors were later rectified when new justices issued rulings that reflected how society had evolved. The current court, perhaps the most political of all time, is doing the opposite.

As this term has shown, the six conservatives on the bench seem hellbent on imposing their archaic vision of the US on a country that has long since moved on.

Even worse, there is no recourse against the actions of these judicial tyrants.

To understand just how much of an outlier the Roberts court is, it’s worth looking at some of the worst Supreme Court decisions of all time and putting them into context.

There is no doubt which case tops that list.

In 1857, the Supreme Court upheld slavery in Dred Scott v. Sanford and ruled that African Americans could not be US citizens.

Even in the context of the time, that was a terrible decision in every way. It is possible that the court felt that “settling” the slavery issue at the expense of Blacks would prevent a civil war, which obviously didn’t happen. But even that most charitable interpretation of that ruling can’t mask how awful it was.

Dred Scott started a bit of a trend. Over the next century, many of the Supreme Court’s worst decisions came at the expense of African Americans. For example, there were the so-called Civil Rights Cases, decided in 1883, which invalidated the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

Next came Plessy v. Ferguson with its “separate but equal ruling,” which upheld state-level segregation in 1896.

For generations, these rulings imposed countless hardships and injustices on African Americans, and they allowed racism to fester and be institutionalized.

Now, without defending any of these decisions, it is important to remember that they were products of their times – as were the justices making them.

If, for example, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the decision that declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional, had somehow been handed down in 1896  instead of Plessy, then it is quite possible the entire South might have gone up in flames again.

While systemic racism remains a problem in the US today, in the late 19th century, it was at a whole different level. At that time, it might have done more harm than good to say, “Well, y’all are just going to have to get along.”

Again, this isn’t an excuse for the decision, just an acknowledgement that, once the aftermath of the Civil War had been botched, it would have been impossible to desegregate the United States 150 years ago, and this is probably something the justices took into account, consciously or unconsciously.

How Ready for Change Is the Country at Any Given Time?

This holds true for other rights as well. There was a time when it would have made no difference if a court had sanctioned interracial or same-sex marriages — because people trying to exercise their newly won right would have just gotten lynched.

However, once the US was ready, the Supreme Court has often rectified the mistakes of the past and extended rights to more and more groups of Americans. In many cases, the court itself has spurred change with its rulings, even if they initially jolted the country and led to unrest.

And that’s the major difference to what the current court is doing.

Instead of leading the way, these six justices are trying to use their unfettered power to turn back the clock and remake the US in a way that suits their backwards worldviews.

Even worse, that is what they were selected for. These people aren’t gifted legal minds whose deep understanding of the law results in them making well-founded decisions that happen to roll back hard-won rights.

Instead, they are ideologues who want to return the US to the 1950s

And it doesn’t help that at least two of them have kept hidden the fact that they allowed right-wing billionaire sugar daddies to spoil them with lavish gifts.

What they are doing is fundamentally at odds with what the Supreme Court is supposed to be: the adult in the room that ensures American ideals are upheld.

Or, as its own website says: “As the final arbiter of the law, the Court is charged with ensuring the American people the promise of equal justice under law and, thereby, also functions as guardian and interpreter of the Constitution.”

That is not what the Roberts court is doing.

Instead, it is picking winners and losers… and wouldn’t you know it, the winners all happen to be the same people who are the beneficiaries of Republican policies, and the losers are the same people these policies leave by the wayside.

Where is the justice in that? 


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a senior editor for Politics and director of the Mentor Apprentice Program at WhoWhatWhy. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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