It feels rotten to be a U.S. citizen.
I recall pre-Roe times. Although abortion’s normally a safe, simple procedure, I watched a female relative endure a life-threatening situation because abortions were illegal and hers couldn’t be done in a hospital. That sticks in your mind.
Last week’s supreme court decision is horrendous for many reasons. It will mean some people will die or be jailed for family-planning, it signifies, in itself and in the court’s unnecessarily broad language, a serious eclipse of personal freedoms.
These justices did this with glee, writing the decision the way someone walking off with your wallet might unnecessarily stick his finger in your eye as he left.
Much of my life, we’d seen (and helped create) an opening up: tolerance of ethnic minorities, even some recognition that nonwhite folks not only had rights but might contribute new and valuable insights; recognition that most women wanted to be more than brood mares, that while some relished marriage and child-rearing, many also wanted to be welders or doctors, and to be able to own property in their own right. (Women got the right to have credit cards without a man’s signature soon after the Court recognized their right to abort pregnancies.) Women sought equal employment rights and some protection against spousal abuse. We’ve gone from arresting folks to performing gay marriages, and have recognized that folks have the right in their intimate lives to do as they choose with other consenting adults. In 1965, in some states, a black couldn’t marry a white, and a married couple couldn’t buy birth control.
That openness has meant the world to many.
Essentially, our definition of “people” has broadened. As it broadened, we applied the Constitution more broadly. Written by Christian white men to protect their own freedom, its language applies as well to folks those men hadn’t yet contemplated as equals. (Well, it applied for a while.)
In my youth, the Supreme Court’s big controversy was Brown v. Board of Education, the groundbreaking recognition that separate-but-equal was an impossibility because if I banned you from going to school with my kids and “our kind,” that harmed you. Excluding someone, right from childhood, damaged that person by vividly demonstrating that s/he just wasn’t as good as others. (Too, in practice, your school was never as good as mine.) Brown overruled Plessy v Ferguson; Earl Warren worked hard for a unanimous court, and Brown explained in scientific detail why Plessy was wrongly decided.
The present far-right justices don’t care. They say Roe was wrongly decided, lie about history and previous decisions, and ignore a half-century’s reliance on the right to privacy.
Alito, Thomas, et al. are destroying the court. The court has no army, no police force. Just this widespread idea that it’s neutral and serious and follows something called the Law. As justices bother less and less even to pretend they’re honest or fair; and as their decisions get further out of tune with prevailing views, the court’s prestige shrinks rapidly. (We’re seeing that already in polls.)
What’s really weird is that all this restriction of personal freedom is being pushed by folks who scream “My Constitutional Right!” faster and louder than anyone if you mention gun-safety or granting others the right to live their lives on their own terms.
Those who applaud this court’s decisions may some day regret the vicious, intolerant nation the justices are turning us into.
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[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 3 July 2022, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website. A related radio commentary will air during the week on KRWG (90.7 FM) and on KTAL (101.5 FM / http://www.lccommunityradio.org/) and be available on both station’s websites.]
[The abortion decision is wrong on the law. Even buying into “originalism,” it’s wrong on its claims about what folks thought and meant at the time. Abortion wasn’t something you bragged about, but wasn’t some huge crime, either; and at common law, which we inherited, it was criminal only after “quickening,” which is months into the pregnancy, when the baby “kicks.”
More critically, it is a vicious and narrow understanding of what the Founders had in mind. They sought a living document. They also did not want an established religion dictating to non-adherents about their lives. Jefferson, I believe, not only stated that Christianity was not and had never been part of the common law, he said that like all religions it was built on a fable; and others stated clearly that the government was not founded on any religion. Adams said it was not a “Christian nation, any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation.”]
[Meanwhile, the Court is on a rampage: with mental problems epidemic, the Court is broadening the 1988-recognized individual gun-rights and encouraging everyone to carry in public; with global weirdness already affecting us, ahead of the predictions that opponents called exaggerated, it’s wrongly weakening the EPA’s ability to regulate; and it’s diminishing Sixth Amendment (right to counsel) as sloppily as its expanding the Second. We are in serious trouble for a long time, folks.]