LLast week, the United States Supreme Court entered its summer recess, but it left behind an America that many say has been fundamentally reshaped after a momentous series of conservative majority rulings on abortion. , firearms, the power of government agencies and the role of religion in public life.
The series of rulings has drawn widespread condemnation outside conservative America and many are wondering what, if anything, can be done.
“We are absolutely in a constitutional crisis,” said Lawrence Gostin, a law professor at Georgetown University and director of the World Health Organization’s Center on Global Health Law. “And our democracy today is one of the most fragile democracies among our peers.
“We haven’t fallen over the cliff – we still more or less respect the rule of law and still have elections, more or less – but the terms of our democracy have really been gutted by the Supreme Court.”
The most significant decision of this term came on June 24: That day, a conservative super majority of justices overturned Roe v. Wade. The 1973 Supreme Court decision had ruled that American women had the constitutional right to abortion.
By denying pregnant women, girls and others this long-standing constitutional right, approximately 26 states are poised to ban or severely limit abortion; some have already done so. Some of these states’ abortion bans make no exceptions for rape or incest.
“This decision not only goes against the will of the people – the majority of people support the right to abortion, legal abortion – it goes against modern progress, the progress of history” , said Coco Das, Texas organizer of Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights. . “It is based on biblical literalism, a fanatical fundamentalist Christian movement.”
“We’re sent back decades, if not centuries, to be honest,” Das said, later adding, “They’re really trying to turn society into a dominated society based on white supremacy, male supremacy and Christian supremacy. It’s very dangerous.
“Without the right to abortion, women cannot be free, and if women are not free, no one is free.”
On June 23, the Supreme Court struck down a 1911 New York State gun law that imposed strict restrictions on carrying firearms outside the home. The ruling, in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen case, came after mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo that left more than two dozen people dead.
Conservative Judge Clarence Thomas said state law – which said anyone wishing to carry a handgun in public needed a ‘good cause’ to do so – violated the right to bear arms in the second amendment.
“The decision ignores this shocking crisis of gun violence every day, engulfing not just New York, but our entire country,” said New York Mayor Eric Adams. “Opinion claims to be based on [the nation’s] historical past, but does not reflect today’s reality. It ignores the present and endangers our future.
Several rulings have intensified fears that conservative justices no longer respect the separation of church and state. They voted for a former public high school football coach who was suspended for praying with athletes on the field after games.
Judges also rejected a Maine law that barred religious schools from getting tuition assistance from public funds, according to the hill. “This court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Founders fought to build,” liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in her dissent.
Recent court rulings regarding tribal lands and environmental protections have also drawn criticism. Judges ruled on Wednesday that state prosecutors can bring criminal charges for crimes perpetrated by non-natives against natives on tribal lands.
“With today’s decision, the United States Supreme Court has ruled against legal precedent and fundamental principles of Congressional authority and Indian law,” commented Chuck Hoskin Jr, Senior Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
On Thursday, the court upheld West Virginia’s lawsuit that insisted the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) be limited in its regulation of planet-heating gases from the energy industry.
“The decision to side with polluters rather than the public will cost Americans lives and cause an enormous amount of preventable suffering, with the greatest burden falling on low-income communities and communities of color,” said Michael Bloomberg, UN special envoy and former mayor of New York.
Legal experts have said steps can be taken to prevent the Supreme Court from exercising unlimited power. Several have suggested lawmakers could enact term limits, for example.
“We don’t have to just buy into this notion that the Supreme Court has the final say on every consequential issue in the country,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of nonprofit court watchdog Fix the Court. . “Congress can step in and pass laws that protect certain rights.
“There are people who are really focused on what people might want to do in November, but there are plenty of legislative days between now and then to get bills passed,” Roth continued. “We are in new territory here, and elected officials must be up to the task of reigning in power from a court on the run.”
The constitution grants lifetime tenure to Supreme Court justices. Roth believes, however, that there are legislative means that could upgrade them to senior status – meaning they would retain their lifetime appointment as required, but not wield decades-long decision-making power.
“It would send a signal to the judges that they don’t have the final say – making sure these ‘philosopher kings’ don’t rule us for 30 or 40 years is an important step in that direction.”
Gostin suggested term limits in court and/or a “rigorous independent evaluation of potential judges by an independent panel.” This panel, in turn, would provide a list of judicial nominees to the president.
“These two are very well established in other countries around the world. It would make a lot of sense,” Gostin said. “The problem is: there’s no political appetite for it, and you have to get Congress to buy into it and the Republicans surely don’t want that because they view Supreme Court appointees as a war. “
“They are winning the war, so why would they change the terms of engagement?”
Gostin also invoked a martial analogy when discussing recent court rulings.
“It seems the Supreme Court is at war with the American people,” Gostin said. “It certainly serves the desires and passions of a third of the country, but it completely ignores the consequences for the vast majority of the country.”