Human Rights

The Supreme Court’s Radical Right Wing Majority: Waging War on Women And Boosting Corporate Power

As term closes, the court hands down a trio of misogynist, pro-corporate rulings.

Anti-abortion protesters at U.S. Supreme Court
Photo Credit: Shutterstock, Copyright (c) Dan Thornberg

The U.S. Supreme Court’s white, male, right-wing majority has issued three of its most misogynist rulings in years. It’s one thing to read the orders and the scathing dissents penned by justices who lost. But it was sickening to hear the lusty cheers of victors on the Court’s steps on NPR’s newscast. What exactly were the victors celebrating?

On Friday, it was the rights of anti-abortion protesters to confront, harass and bully vulnerable women in front of clinics before seeking an abortion. On Monday, it was the power of private corporations owned by Christian fundamentalists to cut out contraceptive services from female employees’ health plans. Also Monday, it was shrinking the fees that labor unions can collect for political organizing; in this case, in the low-wage, poor-benefit home health field, where most workers are women and people of color.

These three rulings impose religious beliefs and business decisions that work to keep women down—and expand corporate power. Press releases from some fundamentalist Christians left no doubt that they are not even satisfied. “We regret that this ruling applied only to closely held corporations and eagerly await the day that the Court reaffirms this same protection for all corporations, regardless of structure,” said Bob Stone of Faith Driven Consumer, speaking of the contraception case.

“What religious rights will business corporations seek next,” asked UCLA’s Adam Winkler in the Huffington Post, speaking of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the ruling that held religious rights of private corporations are more important than the rights of women to have contraception in employee health plans.

“So while a business corporation can’t go to church, fast on Yom Kippur, or travel to Mecca for Ramadan, it can still go to court and, on the basis of religious freedom, demand to be exempted from the law that applies to everyone else,” Winkler wrote. “Today, women are the victim. Tomorrow, it could be LGBT people. Indeed, after Hobby Lobby, every person is at risk. Everyone, that is, except the corporate person, my friend.”

It’s not very often that commentaries like Winkler’s—real outrage—permeate the news. But these Supreme Court rulings are evoking that response—especially from those on the receiving end. Many people who have spent their lives working in politics and law for fairness and equality feel that the Supreme Court just doled out great injustices. Their issues may vary, but they reach the same conclusion: The Court’s radical righwingers are imposing their religious morals on women, and allowing corporations to acquire more power and rights than individuals.

“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is a devastating blow to real religious liberty,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, speaking of the Hobby Lobby ruling. The case challenged Obamacare’s requirement that businesses offer birth control in health plans; it exempted religious non-profit corporations, such as Catholic hospitals. “These cases are about far more than birth control or access to health care,” he said. “At stake are the religious liberty rights of all workers in the United States—their right to live their lives according to their own beliefs and consciences, and their freedom from having their employers’ beliefs forced upon them. This ruling is just the tip of the iceberg… the Supreme Court has shown that it will not protect the religious liberty of employees.”

“We need to put an end to the war on working women,” echoed Democracy for America’s Karli Wallace. “The U.S. Supreme Court gave bosses across America the right to deny birth control access to their female employees. And on top of that, they made it nearly impossible for home healthcare workers to form and sustain a union… These decisions are further proof that conservatives are doubling down on their war on women: The first gives mostly male corporate executives power over whether or not working women can get the health care they need, and the second prevents predominantly female home healthcare workers from building any real power for themselves—the kind of power that could lead to the job security and decent wages they deserve.

”

Most of the media attention has gone to the Hobby Lobby ruling because it cut off contraceptive services for women while expanding the constitutional rights of corporations. But the labor union ruling, Harris v. Quinn, is pernicious in an entirely different way. Home health care is America’s fastest-growing field and one with some of the lowest wages and fewest benefits, even though workers—typically women age 50 and older—are taking care of family members with disabilities or in advanced old age. 

“It is critical that we pursue strategies to help people age with dignity in their homes when feasible. A key component of this approach is ensuring that the home care workforce enjoys livable wages, decent benefits, job training and support, and stability of employment,” said The Center for Popular Democracy’s Katrina Gamble. “Harris v. Quinn struck a blow against this model, going back on decades of settled case law and making it more difficult for home care workers to come together with their clients to bargain for improved working conditions and wages.”

Deane Beebe, spokeswomen for the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, which works to transform eldercare and disability services, said the Court’s anti-union ruling could not have come at a worse time—because as baby boomers age, there is a growing nationwide shortage of caregivers. “Eighty-four percent of states report serious concerns about the lack of sufficient direct-care workers to meet beneficiaries demands,” she said. “Not only are wages low, but the jobs are often part-time, physically and mentally challenging, and result in high rates of injury. All of these factors contribute to annual rates of turnover in excess of 50 percent which compromises continuity and quality of care.”

What are the Court’s conservatives doing? Clearly, they’re not considering what’s going on as a majority of American women support contraception options and the country’s aging population is mushrooming. As UCLA's Winkler notes, the Court’s agenda is pure rightwing ideology: expand religious rights in a secular society, and expand corporate power over individuals.

“The Roberts Court has been largely hostile to the rights of women,” he noted, citing new restrictions on abortion, workplace discrimination suits and family leave laws. “Meanwhile, the data show that the Roberts Court is the most business-friendly Supreme Court in nearly a century.”

The UCLA law professor knows what a runaway Supreme Court looks like. “Just as Citizens United expanded the rights of business corporations to speak about political issues—and, in the eyes of many, enabling them to drown out the voices of We the People—Hobby Lobby has given businesses another powerful tool to fight against regulation. Hobby Lobby's religious rights enable the firm to ignore the voices of women who wish to enjoy the health benefits from controlling reproduction.”

Progressives will surely hear from advocacy groups and the Democratic Party about the need to support 2014 congressional races—especially the U.S. Senate—to hold the line on federal judicial appointments, including at the Supreme Court. But there is a deeper takeaway. American democracy is supposed to be a system of checks and balances. But right now, that’s broken down. And it’s not just because there’s too much private money in our system of electing public officials. It’s also because the Supreme Court is in the hands of a right-wing block that does not hesitate to impose its draconian ideologies on the majority of Americans.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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