A Conservative SCOTUS Is Bad for America

December 15, 2020

In 2017, President Donald Trump appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court to replace Antonin Scalia. In 2018, he appointed Brett Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy. Finally in 2020, he appointed Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Before I begin on my views of the conservative Court, I must tip my hat to the Democrats in the Senate—I’m not quite sure I’ve ever seen a group of people so good at being walked all over. The fact that Merrick Garland was blocked in 2016 and Amy Coney Barrett was pushed through in 2020 doesn’t have them out for blood is baffling. They just let it happen. Merrick Garland was blocked because it was an “election year” and the president should (in theory) not appoint a Justice in that year. Yet ACB was confirmed in October of 2020, while ballots were actively being sent in during a general election. The fact that they weren’t threatening to unleash hell still stuns me to this day.

Apart from the disappointing actions of the Democrats, the question we must now turn to is the way the Court rules on certain issues. We’ve all heard of Citizens United v. FEC, in which the conservative Roberts SCOTUS ruled in a 5-4 majority that Citizens United, an independent conservative entity, was allowed to air a movie criticizing Hillary Clinton close to the presidential primaries. While this particular instance may seem constitutionally sound, the results have been disastrous for democracy. It now allows for corporations and the ultra-wealthy to finance political action committees (PACs) which can then spend a ton of money for candidates, whether it involves donating directly to them or talking about “the issues.” If a PAC does not donate directly to, or coordinate with, a specific candidate or party, they can then raise unlimited amounts of money from whomever they want. These are called Super PACs, and they should scare you. One only needs to look at the amount of money being spent on recent elections to determine that Citizens United v. FEC has been terrible for the American public. While this could be an indictment of the SCOTUS as a whole, the liberal in me is inclined to point out the fact that the liberal bloc on the Court voted against Citizens United, possibly because they foresaw the dangerous precedent of ultra-wealthy entities being able to do whatever they wanted in the realm of politics.

Turning away from Citizens United, we’re going to move to something that should be taking more of a front seat, especially in light of the election: Shelby County v. Holder. Essentially, the SCOTUS ruled part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional because of a formula it held in which areas with histories of voter discrimination would be subject to federal oversight if they attempted to change voting procedures. The conservative Court ruled, once again in a 5-4 majority, that this section of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional because it was outdated. Essentially, the conservative bloc argued that these states had been good for 40 years and the fact that they already had a history of voter discrimination was not enough. The dissenting opinion, written by the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, provided the perfect analogy when it stated that this argument was tantamount to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Perhaps the reason that these states had not been discriminatory against minority voters since 1960 was because it was illegal to do so? I would love to point the conservative bloc towards the 2018 elections in Georgia, in which the Secretary of State (Brian Kemp, also the current governor) purged 700k voters from the rolls in 2017 alone after purging a total of 1.4 million voters from 2012 to 2018. Of course, the entire state of Georgia was covered as “discriminatory” under Section 5, the very part of the act they repealed. To be fair, they left the road open for Congress in 2013 to pass a new Voting Rights Act using a more updated formula. At the moment, the current House has an updated version of the Act which was passed in 2019. It’s been introduced by Democrats in the Senate and is sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk, ready for a vote.

Dominic Andrews (‘21) argues that originalism, a principle often touted by conservatives, is the best approach to the Constitution. He makes a fair argument and you should read his article. However, originalism sticks to the vision of the Constitution and of our government that the Founding Fathers had. They decided that the principle of limited government was best, since government was the biggest threat to the rights of the people in 1789. While they wrote the Constitution as a living, breathing document because they knew the world would change, they did not foresee how quickly that would happen. The 20th century began with the invention of radio and ended with thermonuclear bombs and an International Space Station. As Alexander Hamilton himself argued in his Federalist #1, we need a vigorous and energetic government to protect our liberties. In this terrifying world, the originalist principle of limited government cannot protect our liberties from malicious entities. The Constitution, meant to limit the power of a tyrannical government, allows for the shadow government that spies on its own citizens, but it apparently cannot protect the voting rights of its own citizens. In short, it’s time to review what it means to be strict in adherence to that document.

The views expressed within this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Cistercian or The Cistercian Informer.

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