With some few yet important exceptions – The Warren Court for example (1953 – 1969) - the decisions of the United States Supreme Court over the history of the Republic have echoed the demands of wealth and power and have been supportive of the status quo especially in regard to preserving the hegemony of the ruling class. A striking example of this was the Supreme Court decisions during the so-call Progressive era (1896 – 1916) that repeatedly undermined worker’s rights during a time when workers were terribly exploited as the nation was shifting from an agricultural-based society to an industrialized one. This period was noteworthy for widespread social activism and political reform.
Recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court especially by the Court’s composition with a majority of conservative right-wing appointed justices clearly show a disturbing trend towards a more repressive and decidedly less democratic republic.
The focus in this talk will be on decisions made by majority conservative justices regarding the issues of gun control, voting rights and campaign finance that have seriously jeopardized public safety, endangered equal access to all U.S. citizens to the polls, and ensured the unfettered and unregulated access of wealth and affluence to seats of government.
In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the decision by the Court was narrow in its application by affirming an individual right to keep handguns in the home for self-defense. Justice Scalia, writing the majority opinion emphasized that, “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. [It is] not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” However, the fact that the Second Amendment to the Constitution was used to justify this decision, laid the groundwork for the decisions that were to follow.
In McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), regarding handgun ownership the Supreme Court held, by a vote of 5–4 that the Second Amendment not only applied to federal jurisdiction as in D.C. but to state and local authorities as well.
The Second Amendment states that, “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
It is hard to imagine that the framers of the Constitution ever intended this amendment to suggest that all private citizens have the constitutional right to be armed beyond the strict boundary of a “well-regulated militia.” This to me, exceeds the limits of common sense and reasonable thinking. As a nation, we have enough evidence to clearly see the real and horrific implications of having an unregulated dissemination of firearms with unimagined firepower to ordinary citizens. This problem has been further compounded by the reality that much of the armaments possessed by the general population are military-style weapons designed to kill with astounding accuracy and precision. Many of these weapons are also in the hands of self-styled personal militias holding extremist jingoist views in a highly polarized political atmosphere filled with outrageous views with little relationship to the truth. This overall situation does not bode well for the future. The Supreme Court rarely recognizes its responsibility regarding the impact of its decisions.
The Supreme Court seems oblivious to the fact that a majority of Americans would like to see further efforts to expand gun control. Yet, in spite of these realities, the Court continues to be willing to hear cases that may further erode the nation’s ability to control the tragic outcomes that are a direct result of the wholesale ownership of weapons.
On June 25, 2013, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013), the United States Supreme Court held that it is, “unconstitutional to use the coverage formula in Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act to determine which jurisdictions are subject to the preclearance requirement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”
The tragic and immediate impact of this decision was to essentially neutralize the Voting Rights Act (1965). The rational of this court was that the social and political conditions that existed in 1965 were no longer extant and that the need for such provisions were no longer necessary. Almost immediately following this decision, many states under Republican Party control, especially in the South, began crafting legislation designed to limit access of minorities to the polls.
The issues presented before the Court in Brovich, Attorney General of Arizona v. Democratic National Committee (2021) were the voter-restriction laws passed by the State of Arizona. One banned the collection of absentee ballots by any person or group other than a relative or caregiver and the other law threw out ballots cast in the wrong precinct. A federal appeals court had thrown out these provisions on the basis that, ‘they had an unequal impact on minority voters and that there was no evidence of fraud that would have justified their use.” Also these were passed in Arizona under the false and misleading notion that the 2020 Presidential election was fraudulent and stolen. This widespread lie was never substantiated by any court of law in response to a literal flood of suits filed by ex-president Donald Trump in many judicial venues. In addition, election officials throughout the nation added testimony to the overwhelming conclusion that the election was fair and beyond reasonable reproach. It also should be remembered that Donald Trump won in 2016 despite the fact that he received a minority of popular votes - three million fewer votes than his opponent.
The 6-3 vote was consistent with the so-called “conservative” values of the majority in the Court. Justice Alito wrote the majority decision angering his “liberal” colleagues. The rationale for this decision was that the state laws should be reinstated in that the impact on minorities was, “relatively minor.”
In the majority decision Justice Alito wrote that, “Just because voting may be "inconvenient for some, doesn't mean that access to voting is unequal.” He also stipulated that the courts should consider what voting rules were like 1982, when the relevant provision of the law was enacted. He stated that, at that time almost all voting was in person and on Election Day, and "the mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote."
Again, we have the Supreme Court disseminating judgments that apparently ignore the real political and social realities of the present and the conclusions drawn by the majority of the nation’s people. The Court demonstrates an apparent disregard for the essential aspects of a supposed democratic society and seems to possess no real desire or inclination to support the underlying and essential characteristic of any democracy – the unimpeded right of every citizen to vote. Without this right, the nation runs the risk of being subject to the tyranny of the minority – a minority that would not have access to the power of formulating national policy if the right to vote was equally enforced. The reemergence of Jim Crow is not in the nation’s best interests.
In Citizen’s United v. FEC (2010), The court held that “the free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for political campaigns by corporations, including nonprofit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.”
This decision essentially swept away all the progress that had been made in regard to campaign finance reform that had been enshrined in laws and regulations. This spurious, ludicrous, and far-fetched application of the free speech amendment to the U.S. Constitution is difficult to fathom.
According the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This amendment clearly addresses the right to free speech. There is nothing in the body of this amendment that anyway refers to money or finance. This application of the free speech amendment to this decision effectively implies that wealthy individual, corporations, and institutions apparently have greater access to free speech than ordinary citizens. It also establishes, promotes, and encourages the effective control over the nation’s political infrastructure by the country’s monied interests.
As we all recognize within the current system, politicians and elected officials spend a vast portion of their time in government soliciting funds for their campaigns. They inevitably become beholding to wealth and power often at the expense of the common good. The evidence of this relationship is readily apparent. It also explains how legislation on many levels of government are crafted with the “assistance” of lobbyists who represent those who can enrich or impoverish politicians who do their bidding or who defy their interests.
In the examples set forth above, I have attempted to demonstrate how the Supreme Court has repeatedly made decisions that counter the very essence of a true democracy suggesting that the Court majority has very little interest in democracy and is far more vigilant and resourceful regarding the interests of wealth and power.