High Court Targets More Long-Held Rights

They’re at it again. Despite an astonishingly sane decision in favor of the Voting Rights Act on June 8, overall those wacky supreme court justices keep handing down mindboggling rulings, quite recently that the Environmental Protection Agency can only regulate so much what goes into the water supply. After all, we wouldn’t want a regulatory body to block corporations from dumping mercury in rivers and streams, would we? ‘Cause that’s what comes next, make no mistake. Regarding our right not to ingest toxins, the supremes don’t care. Indeed, as the corporate puppets on the high court shrink the EPA’s powers, the final reactionary dream come true moves closer: dismantling the agency, so corporate Amurica can get back to the business of dumping its poisons wherever it wants, accountable to no one.

Specifically, on May 25, the high court curtailed the EPA’s power to regulate wetlands. “Nearly two decades ago, the court ruled that wetlands are protected if they have a ‘significant nexus’ to nearby regulated waters,” the Washington Post reported that day. “Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for himself and four others of the court’s conservatives rejected that test and imposed one that environmentalists say will remove millions of acres of environmentally sensitive land from federal regulation.”

Then on June 1, the so-called justices did it again. In an 8-1 decision, they favored Glacier Northwest, a concrete company, that wanted to sue the Teamsters, because a strike lost it money. This ruling’s obvious impact and purpose will be to break strikes. All of Obama’s appointees voted against the union. Only Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented, arguing that the National Labor Relations Board was this dispute’s proper venue and that the court overstepped. But hey, this is the court that ROUTINELY oversteps, that indicates to lower-court litigants its openness for their complaints to reach it so that it can poke its nose into its favorite hot-button issues. It does things like overturn a 50-year precedent (Roe) or usurp the NLRB’s mission, dating from 1935.

But the Glacier case was particularly ugly. Jones Day represented the company, which thus boasted a connection to former president Trump’s white house counsel Don McGahn. It’s all very clubby. McGahn is senior counsel at Jones Day. While in the white house, McGahn helped three far-right ideologues, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh, ascend to the high court. According to Nancy Snyder in CounterPunch January 20, “A former Trump solicitor general, Noel Francisco, served as counsel to Glacier Northwest.” So this company had political connections like no tomorrow. And the supremes are nothing if not political animals. Those poor Teamsters never stood a chance.

“What Glacier seeks to do here is shift the duty of protecting an employer’s property,” Jackson wrote, “from damage or loss incident to a strike onto the striking workers, beyond what the Board has already permitted via the reasonable-precautions principle. In my view, doing that places a significant burden on the employee’s exercise of their statutory right to strike, unjustifiably undermining Congress’ intent. Workers are not indentured servants, bound to continue laboring until any planned work stoppage would be as painless as possible for their master…” Don’t tell that to the rabidly anti-union chief justice, John Roberts, who, as far as anyone can discern, may very well believe unions have no right to exist in the first place.

Meanwhile, this thoroughly reactionary, pro-corporate court prepares to decide by the end of June whether $10,000 in individual student loan debt can be cancelled. This executive order was one of the few bright and humane spots in Biden administration policy. Unfortunately and predictably, it was litigated at once. And it’s not as if this debt relief is some minor issue. Over 40 million Americans stagger under student loan debt, making the U.S. almost the only country in the world with such student serfdom. Forty three percent of these debtors are over age 40. This means that multitudes of Americans could still pay for their education while they take social security.

American educational debt stands at roughly $1.6 trillion. Biden’s order only shaves off $4 billion of that. It leaves hordes of Americans indentured for decades. Any civilized country would abolish that debt outright. But the U.S. doesn’t hold debt jubilees, and it’s doubtful this stingy, far-right court would ever support even a half-hearted attempt like Biden’s. And don’t look to the Obama “justices” for help here. The Glacier case revealed the sorry truth that they are corporate ideologues, sharing much of their worldview with their fanatically right-wing brethren.

In fact, those far-right justices currently menace quite a few long-established rights. According to Pro Publica June 1, some of the public’s rights making their way to the reactionary judges’ chopping block are: the right to sue federal officials for violating your rights; Miranda rights; freedom from warrantless police searches; freedom from cruel and unusual punishments or the “proportionality principle”; freedom of juveniles from extreme sentences; protections against hearsay at trail; freedom from state-sponsored religious displays; freedom from your taxes funding religion; protections against defamation claims; right of the cognitively disabled not to be executed; right to an effective lawyer in criminal cases; right to a state-appointed lawyer in criminal cases; freedom from prayer in public schools.

Spot a trend? Most of those rights and freedoms so vital to the powerless and those on the lower rungs of the social ladder are under threat, questioned by supreme court reactionaries. If they sweep them all away, it’s not too much to say they are green-lighting tyranny.       As Noam Chomsky noted regarding Roe and the possible overturning of the right to contraception and private sexual rights, “The court is arrogating to itself extraordinary authority to determine how society must function, a form of judicial supremacy that not only has little constitutional basis but should not be tolerated in a democratic society.”

The only way to undo this judicial tyranny is to expand the number of justices and limit all of their terms to something like 12 or 18 years. If our politicos can’t muster the backbone to do this, you can kiss what little remains of our democracy good-bye. My unhappy guess is that soon we’ll say hello to the wretchedness that passes for normalcy under a tiny number of judicial despots.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.