Five justices nominated by Republican presidents (and two nominated by Democrats) passed Roe v. Wade in 1973. Four justices nominated by Republicans (and one nominated by a Democrat) upheld Roe v. Wade with some revisions in 1992.
That didn’t happen this week. David Roberts (of the Volts newsletter) helps explain how the Supreme Court got filled up with right-wing fanatics:
If you read about the birth of the Federalist Society, there’s a kind of theme in the background that’s worth elevating. Conservatives’ problem over the years is that they would nominate judges & then be “betrayed” as judges drifted left (or just moderate). Souter, Kennedy, Blackmun etc.
Conservatives have lots of ways to explain this to themselves. Being exposed to liberals corrupts the bodily fluids! Etc. But the most most sensible & obvious explanation is that decent people, once they survey the evidence & arguments, come out in a decent/compassionate/liberal place.
Now, noticing that the smart, decent people they nominated kept coming to compassionate/moderate conclusions, they did NOT conclude, “gosh, maybe we should be more compassionate/moderate, since that’s where good-faith study of the evidence seems to lead!”
Instead, they decided they needed a cult-like organization where they could create hyper-ideological zealots, people so committed to reactionary conclusions that NO amount of exposure to evidence or simple humanity could ever change their minds: thus, Federalist Society.
Thus we have the striking situation we get today: liberals looking for judges can pull them from anywhere. But conservatives looking for judges can ONLY find them in this creepy billionaire-funded hothouse fringe cult full of ditto-brained mediocrities.
It’s really a great illustration that if you want someone truly, consistently reactionary, you need to find a particular dysfunctional personality type that can selectively ignore evidence, ignore nuance & context, ignore simple humanity & human need. You need a zealot.
That’s why the conservatives on SCOTUS are, in addition to being so horrible on the law, just kind of weird & creepy — intellectually mediocre but hyper-prickly & vain. They were forged in the Federalist Society laboratory. That does not produce normal, healthy people.
Jamelle Bouie of The New York Times has some ideas about fixing the Court:
The Supreme Court does not exist above the constitutional system.
It can shape the constitutional order, it can say what the Constitution means, but it cannot shield itself from the power of the other branches. The Supreme Court can be checked and the Supreme Court can be balanced.
It is tempting, in the immediate wake of the court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, to say that there’s nothing to be done about the reactionary majority on the court. But that’s just not true. The Constitution provides a number of paths by which Congress can restrain and discipline a rogue court.
It can impeach and remove justices. It can increase or decrease the size of the court itself (at its inception, the Supreme Court had only six members). It can strip the court of its jurisdiction over certain issues or it can weaken its power of judicial review by requiring a supermajority of justices to sign off on any decision that overturns a law. Congress can also rebuke the court with legislation that simply cancels the decision in question.
In the face of a reckless, reactionary and power-hungry court, Congress has options. The problem is politics. Despite the arrogance of the current Supreme Court — despite its almost total lack of democratic legitimacy — there is little to no appetite within the Democratic Party for a fight over the nature of the court and its place in our constitutional system. For many Democrats, President Roosevelt’s attempt to expand the size of the court is less a triumph than a cautionary tale — a testament to the limits of presidential leadership and presidential power.
But Roosevelt did eventually get a Supreme Court that allowed most of the New Deal to stand. The threat worked. The court was humbled.
It will take time to build the kind of power and consensus needed to make significant changes to the court. But even the work of amassing that power and putting that consensus together can stand as a credible threat to a Supreme Court that has acted, under conservative control, as if it stands above the constitutional system, unaccountable to anyone other than itself.
The power to check the Supreme Court is there, in the Constitution. The task now is to seize it.
One way to begin is for anybody who had trouble voting for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden in a general election to recognize that the Democratic Party, lame as it often is, is the only institution that stands between us and living in an anti-democratic, Christianity-centered, climate crisis-denying, anti-woman, anti-gay, reactionary dystopia.
We also need to exert pressure on the aged leaders of the party to face reality. This isn’t 1991 anymore.
Use what’s left of our democracy or lose it.