Judicial experts explain why 'destroying expertise' is a goal for the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States hasn’t locked down nearly as hard as some other liberal democracies — and President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for larger companies wasn’t really a full-fledged vaccine mandate, as Biden offered weekly testing as an option for employees who refused to get vaccinated. Nonetheless, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its 6-3 ruling in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Department of Labor, shot down that mandate — which, according to legal/judicial experts Austin Sarat and Dennis Aftergut, is a sad example of ignorance being celebrated in the United States.
Sarat teaches jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College in Massachusetts, while Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor.
In an article published by Justia’s Verdict website on January 24, they argue, “A substantial plurality of citizens have bought into the attacks on experts like Tony Fauci as well as the anti-vax disinformation and ignorance that has left so many Americans dead or unwell. On January 13, in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Department of Labor, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority cast its lot with the anti-vaccination Republican base, its mistruths, and the attack on expertise. For the Court, it was convenient that doing so would serve its larger partisan agenda.”
Sarat and Aftergut’s article isn’t strictly about the High Court’s January 13 decision. Rather, they point to it as a painful example of ignorance being celebrated in the United States.
“Degrading expertise is a necessary component for dismantling the ‘administrative state’ —
a long-term right-wing project that would tear down the institutions, agencies and offices by which the government implements protective public policy,” Sarat and Aftergut argue. “And so, in the course of staying the Biden Administration’s get-vaccinated-or-be-tested mandate in businesses employing more than 100 workers, the National Federation majority laid the groundwork for stripping the country of the great benefit that federal agencies’ specialized knowledge brings to complex policy issues.”
Denigrating experience and knowledge, Sarat and Aftergut warn, is a sign of authoritarianism. In the past, they note, authoritarians — whether it was Adolf Hitler on the fascist far right or Pol Pot and Josef Stalin on the communist far left — typically declared war on “doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists.”
“Destroying expertise is an early step on totalitarians’ march to displacing any truth but their own,” Sarat and Aftergut observe. “Placing masses of citizens in a state of factual disequilibrium facilitates division and conquest…. We have the best anti-regulatory, anti-expert Supreme Court majority that money can buy.”
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