Distant Dome: Return to a Darker Time: The Supreme Court Story

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Garry Rayno is InDepthNH.org's State House Bureau Chief. He is pictured in the press room at the State House in Concord.

By GARRY RAYNO, Distant Dome

Despite assurances about not upending settled law during their confirmation hearings before the US Senate, the three Supreme Court justices seated during the Trump administration, have not lived up to their words.

This session prior rulings on affirmative action and prohibitions against marketplace discrimination were overturned and of course last session Roe vs. Wade was overturned.

The discrimination decision was done under the principle of religious freedom, a particular focus of the Roberts court.

While religious freedom has been one of the foundations of the constitution, it has become a priority over other constitutional rights granted since the early days of the country, such as race, gay rights and abortion all established in the last century under other courts that did not stand so far to the right as this court does.

When Justice Clarence Thomas suggested the court ought to reexamine other settled rights when the court ruled in Roe vs. Wade it certainly was a foretelling of what was to come this year.

Those rights are not too difficult to predict for the coming years under this court’s makeup.

They include race discrimination; interracial marriage; contraception; same-sex marriage; discrimination based on gender, gender identity, gender expression, sex, or sexual orientation; voting rights and procedures; environmental laws; and public money for religious education.

This very conservative court is in the process of dismantling the powers of the federal government that originated through the “New Deal” that resulted in safer working conditions; greater workers’ rights; public protections through regulations governing the environment, food, banks and other business practices; guaranteed retirement funds, and establishing the social safety net that has served to help lift so many out of poverty, feed hungry families and provide medical care for the poor.

Later programs are also in this court’s sights like health coverage for the elderly, and the clean air and water acts as well as integrated schools and the justices have already dismantled campaign finance reforms opening the floodgates to billions of dollars of dark money allowing corporations and the 1 percenters to have an oversized influence on government big and small, from races for the US presidency to local school boards and zoning boards.

The court’s decisions are downsizing the powers of the federal government and giving states greater authority to make those decisions, which means how your rights are protected and which ones are protected will vary from state to state going forward.

The change has already begun in the past few years as issues that never were purviews of the state have become fierce battles among state legislatures such as banning or greatly restricting abortions, the war on public education and voter suppression.

The court’s actions are a prophesy of a return to a time before Franklin Roosevelt when churches took care of the poor, businesses paid workers little money for their labors and polluted the environment, when your health care depended on your wealth, and when financial institutions were unregulated and deposits unsecured.

Those times generated the Great Depression, the concentration of wealth in a few who controlled the political process, death at an early age for many, severe poverty and an under-educated population.

It looks very much like a modern oligarchy and very much like one envisioned by economist James Buchanan and the Koch brothers and others of their ilk six decades ago to discern a way for Virginia public schools to avoid integrating.

That was the first step followed by a return to a time when only the very wealthy controlled the political world because too many people have a vote in the process and will vote in their own self interest, which as you can imagine is not in the best interest of the wealthy who do not want to share their wealth and contribute to society by paying taxes.

The first attempts were too public and drew strong opposition, so the movement went underground and only resurfaced publicly in the last decade.

What is seen now is the push to “decentralize power” from the federal government, privatize retirement plans, end Medicaid and Medicare, and do away with the very expensive public education programs.

No need for higher education because the workers will only demand more money and an educated electorate is not in the oligarchy’s best interest.

This movement had a long term vision of producing more and more conservatives through the education system, and very perceptively began by first taking over state governments, which at the time were overwhelmingly Democratically controlled.

Once Republicans took control of State Houses, they gerrymandered their state districts to ensure they retained control and the Congressional districts so more Republicans would win US House seats.

Whether you agree with it or not, it has been a very effective strategy that has brought the country to this point where Democracy rests on a knife’s edge that could well tip into the Putinization of America and like Russia with a vast array of oligarchs overseeing the United States.

The strategy has also transformed the Republican Party, making it more the Libertarian Party than it ever was before.

And the final piece of the plan developed six decades ago is the court system and most importantly the US Supreme Court.

The Federalist Society and its money keeper Leonard Leo and his new billion dollar PAC have carefully groomed the candidates, coached them on what to say, like their support for settled law, and used its vast wells of dark money to ensure their candidates pass muster before the US Senate and sit on the highest court in the land for the rest of their lives.

The conservative’s 6-3 majority will be difficult to change in any meaningful way for a decade or two with the maximum opportunities for Democrats, which is unlikely given the gerrymandering and voter suppression of recent years.

Today the Supreme Court is not in step with the wishes of a significant majority of the American people and a generation coming of voting age in near total disagreement with what the court is proclaiming.

And the court has not done itself any favors with stories of wealthy businessmen with issues before the court paying for luxurious travel and adventures for at least two if not more of the justices, questionable practices of several justices’ wives and bad attitudes.

Just this week Chief Justice John Roberts appeared to scold those disagreeing with the court’s recent decisions.

“Yes, all of our opinions are open to criticism. In fact, our members do a great job of criticizing some opinions from time to time. But simply because people disagree with an opinion is not a basis for criticizing the legitimacy of the court,” he said.

Roberts did not convince many critics of the court’s contention it can discipline itself quite effectively after he refused to testify before the Senate concerning the ethical issues several of its members had handed to their critics with their activities.

It is not the criticism that serves to question the court’s legitimacy, it is the lying under oath, strange and obtuse arguments based on old English law, made up “major questions doctrine,” or some of the justices’ luxurious lifestyles.

These past two weeks, the court has decided to write its own laws, making Congress an afterthought and legitimizing its self-created gridlock, and has set itself as the highest branch — not equal branch — of the federal government.

Some good old checks and balances are needed or the Supreme Court will self-destruct under the weight of its own actions and decisions.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com.

Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.

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