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Après This, le Déluge

Nobody knows how bad it’s going to get. Paul Waldman of The Washington Post warns that it may get much, much worse:

As we grapple with the Supreme Court’s apparent and imminent decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade, Democrats are warning that this portends an attack on many other rights guaranteed in prior decisions. The right to use birth control could go next, because the 1965 case that guaranteed it, Griswold v. Connecticut, was the foundation on which Roe was built. The conservatives could reverse Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that guaranteed marriage equality.

Heck, under the rationale Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. used in his decision, even Loving v. Virginia, which struck down state laws outlawing interracial marriage, would be vulnerable.

To these warnings, many conservatives have replied: “Oh, come on. You liberals are exaggerating. The Supreme Court isn’t going to do that, and Republican state legislatures aren’t going to go nuts and outlaw contraception. Just calm down.”

But the truth is that, if anything, liberals aren’t panicking enough. The future of any particular right might be hard to predict, but we can say for sure that both the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority and Republican politicians are feeling unrestrained, unlimited in their ambitions, with the kind of freedom only a complete lack of accountability can provide.

Do you doubt? Let’s take a look around:

  • There is a push within the antiabortion movement — which will need a new focus once Roe is overturned — to go after contraception. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) recently denounced the ruling in Griswold, and she’s not alone. Republican states are already moving to limit access to birth control in various ways, and this is a clear target of many in the movement. They will likely begin by targeting Plan B, then IUDs and the pill.
  • A Louisiana House committee approved a bill this week that defines a fetus as “a human being from the moment of fertilization,” making both a woman who has an abortion and her doctor guilty of participating in homicide. Some GOP states have already outlawed receiving medication for abortions through the mail; more will follow, and do you think they won’t be arresting women who get them? Even under existing law, prosecutors in red states have often investigated and arrested women who have had miscarriages; under the new abortion regime such arrests are almost certain to accelerate.
  • Republican legislators are exploring ways to stop women from having abortions not only in their own states but in other states, as well.
  • Though Alito’s draft ruling included a passage denying it is a prelude to nullifying other rights, many legal experts read it to suggest that Obergefell [the marriage equality case] could be the next precedent to be reversed; it was a 5-to-4 decision of a court far less conservative than this one, which believes that stare decisis is for losers. Alito, Clarence Thomas, and John G. Roberts Jr. all dissented angrily from that decision; they now have three more conservatives who could join in reversing it on a nearly identical rationale to the one they will use to overturn Roe.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday that the state plans to “resurrect” a 1982 ruling that required states to provide public education to all children, including those of undocumented immigrants. Many conservative activists are open about their intention to completely replace American public education with private school vouchers and home schooling.

There is simply no doubt that conservatives — both on the Supreme Court and in elected offices — are feeling unleashed in a way they have not been in modern history. To any suggestion of “They’d never go that far,” you have to ask, why not?

Obviously, Republicans (except for a few extremists) don’t actually want to overturn Loving so states can make interracial marriage illegal, even if some might muse about it. But most of them would like to overturn Obergefell, so the chances that they’ll at least try are far higher.

If you believe political constraint might stay their hand, you’re probably wrong.

You might argue that Republicans know Americans are perfectly content with marriage equality by now. But most Americans are happy with Roe, and look what’s happening there.

Over and over, Republicans have learned that there are seldom political consequences for the choices they make. Yes, they lose elections when circumstances turn against them — there’s an economic collapse, or they lose in midterms like the president’s party usually does, or they put up some terrible candidates. But as a rule, the voters do not hold them to account for their extremism.

We’ve seen it before: Republicans do something shocking, liberals say, “History will not be kind to you,” and Republicans respond, “Who cares?” In the end, all that matters is power and your willingness to use it.

They learned it after Bush v. Gore, when the Supreme Court simply handed George W. Bush the presidency. It didn’t matter: Everyone moved on, Bush got reelected, and he put a couple more justices on the court.

They learned it when not just then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell but all Senate Republicans joined in refusing to allow President Barack Obama to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016. Liberals got mad, but what happened? Republicans got their supermajority. Power wins, and the public’s attention span is short.

The conservative movement has many more ambitions — and a Supreme Court eager to fulfill them. So, no, liberals are not being hyperbolic when they warn about the retrograde right-wing revolution that could follow the end of Roe. The right is not hiding its plans. All you have to do is believe them.

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