August 8, 2022

Unelected but legislating: The supreme court decisions that seek to turn back the cultural clock

3 min read

by GREGORY FLOYD, President, Local 237 Teamsters  and HANK SHEINKOPF, Political Consultant

Much is written and spoken about the fact that voting in America is astonishingly low compared with other industrialized nations. In our country, for the last presidential election in 2020, only 66.5% of those eligible voted. That number pales in comparison with nations such as Belgium (87.21%), Sweden (82.61%), Denmark (80.34%), or Australia (78.96%), who have significantly higher voter turnout for that same period. While there are substantial roadblocks to voting in our nation which have been a source of decades-old political wrangling—the U.S. Constitution is clear about which part of the government decides who can vote and legislate. Congress. Yet today, another branch of government seems to have taken its place: the Supreme Court.  

While the Supreme Court is empowered with the duty to protect the United States constitution and provide equal justice for all, its recent session raises the question of whether the Court is overreaching its power. Some argue that with the current Conservative majority of the Supreme Court, the cultural clock of Americans has been turned back. In its past session, the Court showed no hesitation in defying 50 years of precedent and cultural preferences. From demolishing abortion rights to regulating the air we breathe, these justices—not subject to popular vote—have set into motion an America that caters to the former president and political party leaders who appointed them, than the majority of people they are sworn to protect.  

Justices are supposed to be non-partisan. Yet, the reality of getting their position is that politics is the dominant factor in becoming a Supreme Court justice. Recall how then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denied President Obama in 2016 his right to appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, claiming it was “an election year.” Yet, in 2020, McConnell orchestrated the confirmation of Conservative Amy Coney Barrett, one week before President Trump’s re-election bid. 

While it is true that a justice’s retirement or death may be up to chance and has provided some presidents with more opportunity to make a nomination than others, the fact remains, as found by the commission formed by President Biden in 2021 to look into possible reforms, that Republican presidents have appointed 15 of the last 19 justices even though the Democrats held power in 16 of the last 28 years: Trump appointed three in four years, while Carter, Clinton and Obama combined could only select four during their 20 collective years as presidents.  

With this Supreme Court having a 6-3 conservative versus liberal composition, fear now exists in some circles as to what new assaults on cultural and social laws and practices, fought hard for and currently being enjoyed, can be expected: what’s next? Prohibit same-sex marriage, abolish “red flag” gun laws, require standardized teaching of American history, end Social Security, nationalizing “Right to Work” laws—these will all be up for “re-imagining” or revocation.The Biden commission did offer some recommendations for ways that the executive and legislative branches of government could rein in the Supreme Court, whose reputation it warned is “at risk when its decisions on political or social issues are significantly or increasingly distant from strongly held preferences of a large majority of the public.” Among those recommendations are increasing the number of justices and eliminating lifetime tenure. While these may be worthy of consideration, a major problem, however, still exists: how to get such proposals enacted into law? In a nation where there is only a 66.5% voter turnout, nothing significant can really change in society without strong public engagement. Let’s not forget that many Democrats and women had a problem voting for Hillary Clinton, thereby creating a pathway for the election of Donald Trump. Clearly, our future is at the ballot box! We all know what happened by another means. But we also need to make sure that we don’t vote against our own best interests.

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