The Supreme Court is Joe Biden’s Best Political Friend for 2024

Samuel Alito’s court photo, 2007. Source: Supreme Court.

It is all but certain that Joe Biden will be the Democratic Party nominee for president in 2024. For the left this is not good news, but he is better than the likely alternative Donald Trump.  Biden’s approval ratings are low and enthusiasm for him as a candidate is tepid.  Much like in 2020 where Biden won less because of support for him than opposition to Trump, this may be the same scenario in 2024.  In 2022, more of the Republican base voted than did the Democratic base.  More voters voted for Republicans for Congress than for Democrats, worrying some that going into 2024 Biden enthusiasm among his base is not there.  For Democratic Party strategists, the issue is getting the base out to vote for him as well as moving the critical swing votes in the five or so swing states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin that will decide the electoral college outcome.  .

The  key may be for Biden to go after the Supreme Court, and he is facing pressure  from many to do that.

In June 2023 the Supreme Court did the Democrats a major favor with the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision declaring that abortion was no longer a protected constitutional right.  It transformed a textbook midterm election where the president’s party on average should have lost more than 26 House and four Senate seats into a contest where Democrats increased their Senate majority and nearly held the House.  The decision motivated the Democratic Party base along with critical voters.  Among the most important of those voters, college-educated suburban women.  While the economy may have been an issue for many, there are only about thirty swing congressional  districts in the US that matter.    Abortion was the issue for female swing voters in swing districts.  Abortion remains a major issue going into 2024 and it will similarly play big in the swing congressional districts and swing states.

Consider three of the blockbuster cases decided by the Court in its closing week. In  Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College the Court down the use of affirmative action in college admission decisions.  In Nebraska v. Biden it struck down  the President’s executive order to forgive some student loan debt.  In Creative LLC et al. v. Elenisthe Court ruled that the First Amendment protected the right of a business to refuse to design a web page for a same-sex couple.  The 6-3 Republican-Democratic presidential appointment lineup of the votes clearly reveals partisan biases.  But think of the bias in a different way—who are the losers.  In these three cases the major losers were students, college-educated  individuals, persons of color, and members of the LTBTQ+ community.  All four of these groups are part of the new Democratic Party coalition.

Yet for some of these groups despite leaning Democratic, their voting percentages are often  low compared to that of Republicans.  For example, voter turnout in presidential elections has ranged from 54.2% in 2000 to 66.6% in 2020.  While in 2020 student voting nearly equaled that of the general population, historically it has been 14 to 20  percentage points lower.  Comparing Whites to non-White voting, the gap is about 13 percentage points. In 2020, 81% of  those who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community voted for Biden. Finally, for college-educated women, nearly 60% voted for Biden 2020, with turnout for them up compared to 2016.

The simple fact is that when young people, people of color, those with college degrees, and females with college degrees vote, Democrats win, including their presidential candidate.   Yet motivating these voters is the issue, and this is where the three Supreme Court decisions come in.

Democrats will run against the Supreme Court next year, especially pointing out that if Trump is the nominee it could be even worse if he gets to appoint more Justices than the three he already had confirmed, along with the many lower federal court judges.  But running against the Court is not enough. Democrats need to connect  the Court to specific issues and cases and then connect all that to the constituencies they wish to mobilize.  If they can do that they have a basis for overcoming the enthusiasm gap for Biden.  The opportunity is there for  Biden, he now needs to take advantage of it.

David Schultz is a professor of political science at Hamline University. He is the author of Presidential Swing States:  Why Only Ten Matter.