The Roberts Court: Something rotten under the robes

WASHINGTON — Picture us as peasants in medieval Europe again. We have no human rights, a concept far in the future. That’s how the Supreme Court likes it.

Six Catholics powerfully rule the land now, wielding religious beliefs like a weapon. They are known as “justices.” They are anything but, yet nobody can touch them.

They literally have the last word on running millions of lives, with no milk of human kindness. Their bitter arrogance is breathtaking.

In a shocking set of decisions, Chief Justice John Roberts and his Court cabal — Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — seized and usurped the authority of Congress and the president. This Supreme Court often breaks clear legal precedent.

They repudiated reproductive rights last June. That was the first time in history the Court stole human rights away from Americans.

So we braced for it this time.

Affirmative action, gay rights (in a far-fetched case) and President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program were not far behind on the marble chopping block this June.

The Extreme Court takes special delight in kicking vulnerable groups in the teeth. After all, members are locked in for life and never had to run for election.

So, what about “checks and balances” in the Constitution, Madison and Hamilton? Where is the check on the Supreme Court? In recent years, with three new Trump appointees, it’s plummeted in legitimacy among the people.

But it helps to remember we are just medieval peasants, those of us who are women or girls, Black, gay or someone struggling to repay student loan debt.

Affirmative action was a monumental program that helped inclusion: bringing more people of color in the nation’s elite institutions. It was a positive remedy after decades of legal school segregation, which the Earl Warren Court ended in 1954.

John Roberts, you’re no Earl Warren. We know you stand against any kind of redress for past racial discrimination, including the Voting Rights Act.

Second, the Colorado Christian who said she would not design a wedding website for a gay couple, on First Amendment grounds, won her nonexistent case. The Court approved her claim, though no gay couple ever wanted her design work. It was a fraudulent set of facts, which just goes to show you how eager the Court is to enforce its own bigotry.

Biden was visibly perturbed at the Court’s striking down his helping hand to young people: forgiveness of student loans. “This is not a normal Court,” he said. House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi goes farther, calling it “rogue.”

American democracy is under assault from within, again, this time from the highest court in the land. There is no other way to put it.

I witnessed the mob storming the Capitol for one ugly, tragic January day. But the court’s erosion of human rights and progressive practices — and disgraceful rulings on wetlands and fossil fuels — may ultimately do more damage.

Anyone not a white, straight, wealthy male has something to fear or lose from the Roberts court. Its close ties to the arch-conservative Federalist Society and Opus Dei Catholic lay organization serve to underline this truth. (Now Episcopalian, Gorsuch was raised and schooled as a Catholic.)

Roberts reminds me of Roger Taney, the shriveled antebellum chief justice and author of the infamous Dred Scott ruling in 1857. He inflamed the North with hateful language on race and brought the nation closer to civil war.

Old Taney hailed from a slave state, Maryland, and swore in President Abraham Lincoln, who could barely tolerate him.

Taney put it plainly: Blacks, enslaved or free, had no human rights the “white man” was bound to respect. Further, they could never be citizens of the United States.

Sure, Roberts has Harvard polish and nicer manners than Taney, but that’s his soul mate in history’s march, not the great Earl Warren.

Striking down reproductive freedom, affirmative action and voting rights are huge historical injustices that happened on his watch. Under the robes there’s something rotten in the Roberts court.

The Court’s lavish summer vacations and lenient ethics code are under scrutiny. Now they’re off till October — to destinations unknown and undisclosed.

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Jamie Stiehm may be reached at JamieStiehm.com. Follow her on Twitter @JamieStiehm. To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit Creators.com.


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