One of the primary ways we’ve been getting screwed over for the last few decades is via Supreme Court decisions that stack the deck in favor of the wealthy. The right and the left have both focused on the Court’s role in the Culture Wars – LGBT rights, eroding abortion access, affirmative action, preserving the Death Penalty, and more.
All of these conflicts are extremely important, and all have received a tremendous amount of attention in the media. Both left and right have had wins and losses at the Supreme Court level over these issues. And then you have the basic struggle of the working class versus the wealthy. That fight has been extremely one sided, and it looks like it’s about to get worse. One side, the right, has used the culture wars to weaponize the court for political purposes – to get conservative working class folks to vote GOP so they’ll have a Supreme Court that reflects their cultural values. This particular column isn’t about which cultural values are correct, but is about how the economic interests of working class people are systematically undermined by the persistent, decades-spanning conservative majority court.
Neil Gorsuch was just confirmed for the vacancy created by Justice Scalia’s death. Scalia died over a year ago. There was a qualified, consensus nominee, Merrick Garland, who the Senate refused to even grant a hearing. To confirm Gorsuch, the GOP destroyed the filibuster. This isn’t ‘Recent News Recap,’ but it can’t be said enough how toxic and unprecedented the campaign to steal this seat really was – all to assure that the next appointee would pursue a hard-right corporatist line. Mission accomplished. Analysts say Gorsuch is further right than Scalia. That’s pretty damned far.
Let’s talk about Gorsuch’s recent labor rulings. Let’s take a look at the ‘Frozen Trucker’ case. A semi trucker’s trailer’s brakes locked up in below zero weather. He pulled over and radioed for help. The cabin’s heat failed. After several hours, experiencing hypothermia, after continuing to request help, he detached the trailer and drove to safety. Then he got fired by some shitty, heartless, stupid assholes. And he sued. Good for him. The Appellate Court ruled in his favor. The only dissenter was Neil Gorsuch. Maybe he thought the driver wasn’t close enough to death? After all, he didn’t even lose any fingers to frostbite. This man will be shaping labor law for decades.
Another thing working people are dependent on – the environment. Many people think environmental protection is a cause for rich folks. That’s friggin crazy. Rich folks can afford to live somewhere that has drinkable tap water. Ask Flint, Michigan who suffers when environmental standards are ignored. Ask yourselves who is more likely to be exposed to cancer causing air pollution. This is a KEY Supreme Court issue, because water and air quality are both supposed to be protected by existing law. That protection is enforced by the President. The body determining whether the Executive Branch is doing its job is the Supreme Court. If you think the conservative wing of SCOTUS is looking out for your family’s health, I have a bowl of lead paint chips I’d like to sell you for breakfast. Justices Alito, Thomas, and Roberts say this breakfast is fine. Anthony Kennedy is frowning a bit. But our new justice just signed an endorsement deal calling them Gorsuch-O’s! Eat up, folks!
It gets worse. Much worse. SCOTUS has the power to hollow out American democracy, and the right wing has been working on it. Whether you’re left or right, have you ever been frustrated by how big money and corporate interests have been buying out our government? I bet you have! There was a bipartisan bill to try to limit that, called McCain-Feingold, and the conservatives on SCOTUS overturned it on the grounds that corporations are people, so limiting their contributions violated corporate freedom of speech. Gorsuch wasn’t on the court that decided that. He’s just an even bigger fan of corporate rights than the people who made the ruling.
Then there’s the Voting Rights Act, which is wounded but still alive. There’s a very active GOP movement to make it harder to vote, using non-existent voter fraud as an excuse to keep poorer citizens from voting. You might personally say, ‘hey, I can jump over these hurdles.’ Fair enough. But the citizens who can’t, or those who are simply too discouraged and disheartened, are overwhelmingly people who share your economic interests. That simply means that they would benefit from an economy where the deck wasn’t blatantly stacked against working Americans. Who gutted the Voting Rights Act? Who could kill it altogether? The Supreme Court.
For every working class conservative who only cares about the court for Roe v Wade and marriage equality – overturning Roe will only stop legal abortion for people who can’t afford to travel to a state where it’s legal. And what about marriage equality? That is settled. Meanwhile, you’re voting against your own interests, in terms of economic and political power. For every die-hard progressive who said ‘both sides are bad, I’m staying home or voting Jill Stein’ – congrats, you screwed yourself and the rest of us. Clap yourself on the back as a hard right corporatist claims his SCOTUS seat for the next 40 years.
There are other vitally important issues the Supreme Court has the final say over. For instance, literally, absolutely every issue. The judicial branch is one third of our government, and while they don’t take every case, they choose which ones they take. Absent a constitutional amendment, their say is final. Working folks like me (I am lower middle class, despite my fancy talk) need to better understand how SCOTUS affects our daily lives. We’re getting screwed. The only way to stop it is by rising up and demanding that it stops. It’s far past time we realize that.
Travis Hepburn was a Top 25-ranked debater on a National Championship-winning team at Creighton University. He currently manages an Assisted Living Facility for the mentally ill. Politics and policy have remained an unhealthy fixation for him for over 20 years.