The Progressive

The end of Roe v. Wade could be just the beginning of the GOP's attack on legal abortion

This story was first published at The Progressive.

For supporters of abortion rights, the stakes could not be higher than they are this term at U.S. Supreme Court. With conservatives holding a 6-3 advantage on the bench, Roe v. Wade is on the chopping block.

Should Roe fall, abortion will lose its status as a federally protected Constitutional right. Even worse, abortion could become a crime, as it was in nearly every state before Roe was decided in 1973.

It's even possible—if Republicans capture the House, the Senate, and the presidency in 2024—that abortion could become a federal felony. Pregnant people, doctors, nurses, and other "aiders and abettors" could be prosecuted and go to jail for conduct that has been perfectly legal for the last four decades.

This is not hyperbolic.

The Supreme Court is considering three high-profile abortion cases this session that pose existential threats to Roe. Two of the cases—United States v. Texas and Whole Woman's Health v. Jackson—are from Texas and were argued on November 1. The other, Mississippi's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, is slated for oral arguments on December 1.

The Texas cases deal with a draconian abortion statute that took effect in September. The new law bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually six weeks after fertilization. In a cynical twist designed to evade federal court review, the law empowers private individuals rather than the state to bring civil actions to enforce the ban.

After initially declining to hear the Texas cases, the Supreme Court agreed to review them on a limited procedural basis to determine whether federal judges have the legal authority to stop state court judges and private parties from enforcing the law. Though the Supreme Court is not expected to directly address the continued constitutionality of Roe, a victory for the state would leave the law in place and effectively overturn Roe in Texas. A victory for Texas would also encourage copycat legislation elsewhere.

Dobbs, by contrast, involves a direct substantive challenge to Roe. The case will test the Constitutionality of a Mississippi law enacted in 2018 that bans abortions after the fifteenth week of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies and severe fetal abnormalities. No exceptions are made for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest.

In a brief filed in July, Mississippi asked the court to jettison Roe. The state has been joined in that request by a slew of groups from the ultra-right that have filed amicus curiae ("friends of the court") briefs.

With Roe out of the way, anti-abortion laws will proliferate. According to the Guttmacher Institute, twenty-six states are likely to ban abortion if Roe is overruled. These include laws enacted before Roe that have never been removed from the books in Alabama, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and other states; so-called "trigger" laws that will take effect automatically in Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota, and elsewhere if Roe is invalidated; and state constitutional bans that will be activated and enforced in Alabama, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

The abortion bans will also likely spark criminal prosecutions under intense pressure from influential elements of the right-to-life movement. As Heather Lawless, co-founder of the Idaho-based Reliance Center, told National Public Radio last October following the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett as Ruth Bader Ginsburg's replacement on the Supreme Court: "I don't think abortion should be legal, period. Because abortion at any stage is willfully taking a human life, and I don't think that should be legal—at all."

Though Lawless said she wouldn't want to see abortion patients prosecuted, she advocates holding doctors who perform abortions fully liable. Some anti-abortion hardliners are prepared to go even further.

Catherine Davis, the founder of the Restoration Project in Georgia, told NPR that she wouldn't rule out punishing patients for self-induced abortions. "If she decides to self-abort herself, then she's subjected to the same penalty as the doctor," Davis said, in an apparent reference to techniques such as the "morning-after pill."

Abortions, in her view, should be treated as murder and punished the same way, "up to and including capital punishment."

While Davis's position may be extreme even in right-to-life circles, the prospect of a cascade of post-Roe prosecutions has the criminal defense bar on high alert. Earlier this year, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) released a comprehensive report warning that if Roe is rejected, state laws defining "personhood" to include the unborn "will expand the reach of criminal liability for serious offenses such as homicide, feticide, aggravated assault, and many other crimes."

Such laws, according to the report, already exist in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina.

The report similarly cautions, in a reference to anyone who provides material assistance with abortions, that state and federal conspiracy laws could be used to subject "a wide range of individuals, beyond women seeking abortions and the doctors performing them, to criminal penalties."

Although most post-Roe abortion prosecutions would take place at the state level, some cases could be initiated by the U.S. Justice Department should Republicans regain the levers of federal power in 2024.

In 2003, with largely Republican sponsorship and support, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, making it a federal felony for doctors to perform certain late-term abortions. The Supreme Court upheld the law as constitutional in 2007 in Gonzales v. Carhart by a vote of 5-4.

With Republicans back in control of government, it would only take a party-line vote to carve out an abortion exception to the filibuster rule in the Senate for the enactment of a federal statute criminalizing abortion nationwide.

The fallout from any of these developments would be devastating for all pregnant people, but particularly for people of color and the poor.

The first step in unleashing these dire consequences could be taken by the Supreme Court, which is now dominated by staunch anti-abortion conservatives. We'll know whether Roe will survive when the court releases the final decisions of its current term at the end of June 2022.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the Guttmacher Institute.

Trump's post-presidency legal woes are multiplying fast

This story was first published at The Progressive.

The legal noose is tightening around Donald Trump's neck. Although we are still far from seeing the former commander-in-chief outfitted in a prison jumpsuit, Trump faces legal jeopardy on a variety of fronts related to his long history of corruption in the private sector and his malfeasance as President. And make no mistake: as Trump runs out of cards to play, the jeopardy becomes less and less of a political game he can spin in his favor. Things are getting serious.

Several recent developments have improved the odds that Trump will be brought to justice.

"If a hit man is hired and he kills somebody, the hit man goes to jail. But not only does the hit man go to jail, but the person who hired them does."

On July 1, the Trump Organization and its former Chief Financial Officer, Allen Weisselberg, were indicted by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. for tax fraud, grand larceny, and conspiracy.

While Trump has not yet been charged individually, the indictment refers to an "unindicted co-conspirator" who allegedly "agreed to and implemented" Weisselberg's tax evasion scheme. Since little happens in Trump's financial empire without his knowledge and consent, the reference points to Trump, who could well be named as a defendant in the near future by way of an amended indictment.

Attorney General Letitia James has joined Vance's criminal probe, fortifying the courtroom firepower arrayed against Trump. In 2019, James opened a separate civil investigation of Trump's business practices that could result in significant fines and the formal dissolution of the Trump Organization.

In addition, Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis has convened two grand juries to investigate Trump for pressuring the Georgia Secretary of State to overturn the results of the 2020 election. In March, Willis reportedly hired attorney John Floyd, a nationally recognized authority on racketeering and conspiracy law, to advise her on the probe.

Even if Trump manages to dodge personal liability in New York and Georgia, he will hardly be in the clear. First and foremost, he will find himself squarely in the crosshairs of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol. The committee was established to report on the causes and consequences of the insurrection that delayed and nearly prevented Congress from certifying Joe Biden's victory in the Electoral College.

The committee held its first public session on July 27, featuring dramatic testimony from four law enforcement officers (two from the Capitol Police and two from the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department) who defended Congress against the violent mob of MAGA rioters that stormed the Capitol on January 6. Together, they recounted the horror, brutality, and racism of the rampage, laying the blame for the event squarely on Trump and his high-level enablers.

As Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn told the committee: "If a hit man is hired and he kills somebody, the hit man goes to jail. But not only does the hit man go to jail, but the person who hired them does. It was an attack carried out on January 6 and a hit man sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that."

The select committee is equipped with subpoena power to fulfill Dunn's wishes.

In a July 28 interview with MSNBC's Ari Melber, former Watergate prosecutor Nick Ackerman said he believes the committee will use that power to subpoena and depose Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, who revved up the rioters on January 6 in speeches delivered before the assault on the Capitol. The committee, Ackerman said, will piece together a damning "jigsaw puzzle" to explain exactly what occurred on January 6.

"And they don't really have much of a defense here," Ackerman explained. "I think the more [the committee] can dig into the evidence showing that Trump and Rudy Giuliani and Brooks knew these people had come . . . looking for a fight—the more they can show what they were doing [was] inciting this riot. That's not going to fly well with [a] jury [in] the District of Columbia."

According to press reports, the committee is working on its future witness list and preparing to set a new round of hearings. And while it remains to be seen if Trump actually will be summoned, Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, the panel's chairman, has publicly stated the committee won't hesitate to call Trump, or officials from the Trump Administration, or members of Congress, such as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, and Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, who spoke with Trump on January 6. Thompson has also vowed to go to court to enforce any subpoenas that are issued.

With or without Trump's testimony, the committee is likely to amass an unassailable record of the former President's part in inciting the insurrection, setting the stage for a referral to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution.

In an encouraging sign that the DOJ is taking the investigation seriously, the department issued a set of letters late last month to former Trump Administration officials, informing that it would not invoke the doctrine of executive privilege to shield them from testifying before Congress about the Capitol attack.

In a similar vein, the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel recently published a formal opinion, confirming that the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service "must furnish" Trump's tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Compounding Trump's legal miseries further is the federal civil suit filed by Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, against Trump for inciting the insurrection. Swalwell's complaint, which also names Giuliani and Brooks as defendants, seeks both compensatory and punitive monetary damages, as well as a judicial declaration that the trio violated federal law.

In a court filing last week, the DOJ declined to intervene in the case and take on Brooks's defense, as it would in many lawsuits involving federal employees. In reasoning that also applies to Trump, the department explained that Brooks's involvement in the events leading up to the Capitol attack was beyond the scope and duties of his employment.

The DOJ is also moving forward with the prosecution of more than 500 Capitol rioters, some of whom have come to blame Trump for their conduct.

All of this is very bad news for the former President. The key now is to ramp up the pressure and persevere until Trump and the neo-fascist movement he represents are finally held to account.

The day the Supreme Court showed its disturbing new face

This story was first published by The Progressive.

The U.S. Supreme Court is not a democratic institution. It consists of nine unelected elite lawyers armed with the tools and techniques of judicial review. They, not "the People," often get the last word on vital questions of social, economic, and even political policy.

Whether this is a smart way to run a democracy has largely been a moot point since the court declared in Marbury v. Madison (1803) that it had the authority to find acts of Congress unconstitutional. The big question today, as always, is whether the court can operate in a politically neutral manner and stay above the partisan fray while discharging its awesome power.

Throughout much of the court's 2020 term, which commenced last October, it may have been plausible to believe that the high tribunal was charting a moderate course, even with six conservative Republican appointees at the helm. In the mainstream press, a middle-of-the-road consensus had emerged that the court was only incrementally moving to the right, and was by no means the threat that some observers had feared when Donald Trump hastily named Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

CNN legal analyst Joan Biskupic expressed the consensus well in a column posted online in mid-June, suggesting that rather than cleaving along partisan lines, the court was displaying more of a 3-3-3 alignment, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh to establish a dominant center-right bloc.

The center-right alliance, Biskupic argued, was proving effective in checking the more extreme impulses of the tribunal's most doctrinaire members, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch.

No more.

Whatever validity the consensus may have had was obliterated on July 1, just before the court broke for summer recess, with the release of a stunning 6-3 majority opinion written by Alito in the case of Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee. The ruling tore another gaping hole in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and signaled that the panel's rightwing ideologues were fully in control.

At issue in Brnovich was an Arizona statute that criminalizes the collection of mail-in ballots by third parties other than family members and caregivers (a practice called "ballot harvesting"), and a state regulatory policy that requires all in-person ballots, even provisional ones, to be invalidated if they are cast by voters outside of their registered precincts. Democrats contested both measures under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which permits challenges to election practices that discriminate on the basis of race.

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Dividing along starkly political lines, Alito and his Republican colleagues handed the state a complete victory. Channeling GOP post-election talking points about nonexistent voter fraud almost word for word, Alito wrote that Arizona was justified in imposing the measures because of its "strong and entirely legitimate . . . interest in preventing election fraud," which, he asserted, "can affect the outcome of a close election" and "undermine public confidence in the fairness of elections."

"The Brnovich opinion," says Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, "will greatly weaken the Voting Rights Act."

The opinion is especially bad when considered in context. "Eight years ago, in Shelby County v. Holder," Chemerinsky explains, "the court nullified provisions of the act [found in Sections 4 and 5] that required jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to obtain pre-approval" of changes to election procedures from either the Justice Department or a three-judge panel sitting in Washington, D.C.

"Had those preclearance provisions remained intact, many of the new suppression laws we're seeing in Georgia and elsewhere would never have been implemented," Chemerinsky says. "Now, the Supreme Court has made it harder for the U.S. Attorney General or others to sue the states under Section 2 when they pass laws that have a discriminatory impact on minority voters."

The court also handed down another ideologically tinged decision on July 1 with a 6-3 majority opinion written by Roberts in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta. The decision struck down a California regulation that requires registered charities and nonprofits to disclose the identities of major donors (those contributing more than $5,000). Americans for Prosperity is a tax-exempt organization long linked to the Koch brothers. Critics of the decision charge that it will open the door to more "dark money" in elections.

The damage caused by the Roberts Court to democratic norms and values runs deep. Harvard Law School professor Michael Klarman summed up the panel's cumulative record under Roberts's stewardship in an essay published last February in The Atlantic:

"With their majority on the court, the Republican Justices have undermined labor unions, unleashed money in politics, protected corporations from class-action litigation and punitive-damage awards, curbed antitrust law, eroded the Constitutional right to abortion, invalidated gun-control measures, struck down voluntary efforts by school boards to achieve integration through race-conscious means, and threatened to abolish race-based affirmative action." (See sidebar for some of the Roberts Court's worst rulings.)

Klarman's assessment raises another crucial question: What, if anything, can be done to reverse the high court's lurch to the right?

In his article, Klarman called for expanding the number of Justices from nine to thirteen, with the four newcomers to be appointed by President Joe Biden while the Democrats control the Senate, albeit by the slimmest of margins. Such a move would create a center-left court that in Klarman's view would match the center-left orientation of the country as a whole.

Klarman sits on the advisory board of the progressive advocacy group Take Back the Court, founded in 2018 by San Francisco State University professor Aaron Belkin. The board is co-chaired by Harvard Law School professor Mark Tushnet and Color of Change board of directors chair Heather McGhee. It also includes CNN host W. Kamau Bell, former Federal Election Commission chair Ann Ravel, and Yale Law professor Samuel Moyn.

"The Supreme Court is broken," says Belkin, expounding on his organization's origin and purpose. "The court was stolen in 2016 when a vacancy opened after Antonin Scalia died, and Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans would not allow President Obama to fill that vacancy with Merrick Garland."

Surveying the state of the nation in the aftermath of Trump's three high-court appointments and the chaos created by the forty-fifth President, he says, "American democracy is hanging by a thread."

And the Supreme Court, he argues, is a big part of the problem.

"For years now, the court has been sabotaging democracy on behalf of big corporations, the Republican Party, and the party's donor class," Belkin says. "With the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018, the entire regulatory administrative state has been placed at risk, throwing everything progressives care about, including the need to respond to the existential crisis of climate change, into jeopardy."

These are long-term trends, he stresses, rejecting suggestions that big changes at the court are unwarranted because of a handful of recent rulings that uphold LGBTQ+ rights, preserve Obamacare, and reject efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. In the final days of this past term, the court also ruled in favor of the off-campus free speech rights of public high school students and sided with college athletes in a dispute with the NCAA that could eventually lead to athletes getting paid for their skills and hard work.

Belkin dismisses the idea that the court is best described as having a 3-3-3 split and a generally moderate orientation. "That's bullshit," he counters. "Even the most conservative court sometimes issues progressive rulings. But this remains an exceedingly pro-business court."

Indeed, a study released by the D.C.-based Constitutional Accountability Center in early July found that corporate interests prevailed in 83 percent of business-related cases this past term. Says Belkin, "The court is doing the same thing today that it's been doing for a generation, which is rigging the system and compromising democracy on behalf of the GOP."

Belkin understands the uphill nature of the fight to expand the court, but he's used to uphill battles. He was a leader in the gay rights campaign to overturn the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, a struggle that took more than ten years to succeed.

"When we started Take Back," he says, "hardly anyone was talking about court expansion." The issue, in fact, had been largely dormant since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's failed "court-packing" plan of 1937.

That's no longer true. In June 2020, Take Back the Court signed an open letter urging court expansion together with eight other left-liberal groups, including the Sunrise Movement, the Progressive Change Institute, Friends of the Earth, and Since then, according to Belkin, the number of organizations calling for court expansion has swelled to more than fifty.

One of those organizations is Demand Justice, established in 2018 by communications specialist Brian Fallon, the group's executive director, and attorney Christopher Kang, who holds the title of chief counsel. Both are veteran political hands. Fallon served as Hillary Clinton's national press secretary during the 2016 presidential race. Kang spent nearly seven years in the Obama White House as a deputy counsel and adviser on legislative affairs.

"The first and foremost change we need to see," says Kang, "is court expansion to restore balance and legitimacy to the court. We need to fight for a court that stands for justice and equality" for all Americans.

Technically, court expansion is a relatively simple and straightforward proposition. The number of Supreme Court justices isn't set by the Constitution. It's set by Congress, which has changed the size of the court seven times, dating back to the Judiciary Act of 1789.

Over the decades, the number has varied from five to ten, when the panel was last expanded in 1863. The court was reduced to nine members in 1869, and has remained at nine ever since.

"Expansion is clearly legal, requires no Constitutional amendment, and is the fastest way to restore balance to the court," Kang maintains.

The biggest obstacle to expansion is political, and it's a big one. For the court to be enlarged, legislation would have to clear both houses of Congress, and overcome a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate. But with conservative Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona on record as opposing changes to the filibuster rule in the upper chamber, the prospects for expansion are slim.

Still, progress is being made. Court expansion became a hot topic during the 2020 presidential race, and some leading Democrats have taken up the cause, backing legislation to accomplish the objective.

Both Belkin and Kang were on hand for a press conference in April on the steps of the Supreme Court convened to announce the introduction of the Judiciary Act of 2021 in both the House and Senate. The bill calls for four Justices to be added to the court. It currently has twenty-seven House co-sponsors, including Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler of New York and leading progressives including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.

However, neither House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has come out in favor of the measure. Nor has President Biden.

Biden has instead appointed a thirty-six-member bipartisan commission, consisting largely of law professors drawn from both ends of the political spectrum, to study the issue of expansion. The commission held its first public session in May, and is expected to consider other court-reform ideas as well, such as imposing term limits on the tenure of the Justices; drafting an ethics code for the court (which is currently the only federal judicial body not bound by the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges); and restricting the court's so-called shadow docket.

The "shadow docket" refers to the growing list of emergency orders the court has issued in recent terms without oral argument or full briefing. Such orders have been used to overturn lower-court rulings in a variety of contexts, permitting the court to quickly lift stays of execution in death penalty cases, and block state-imposed COVID-19 lockdown procedures.

Belkin and Kang have little faith in the commission, which Kang calls "unnecessary" and Belkin lambasts as a "garbage-in-and-garbage-out head fake" that will "waste time and run out the clock when action is urgently needed."

Meanwhile, as they agitate for expansion, Belkin, Kang, and others are urging Justice Stephen Breyer to resign, which would allow Biden to fulfill his campaign pledge to appoint a Black woman to the court. Breyer, who has been on the court since 1994, will turn eighty-three years old in August.

On April 9, Demand Justice hired a billboard truck to circle Capitol Hill, bearing the message "Breyer, Retire" in neon green lettering. The event, says Kang, was scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the late Justice John Paul Stevens's retirement announcement in 2010.

In June, Demand Justice followed up the truck deployment with a full-page ad in Politico calling on Breyer to step down, and an ad with the same exhortation in The New York Times signed by eighteen Constitutional law scholars, among them Belkin and Chemerinsky.

Thus far, however, Breyer has given no hint of leaving. In a speech at Harvard in April, he also came out against court expansion, arguing that such a move would further erode public trust in the courts.

Breyer's position has disappointed many reform advocates. "If Justice Breyer wants someone with his values and views to take his place," says Chemerinsky, "he needs to sit down with the Democratic President and Democrats in the Senate."

In 2014, Chemerinsky urged Ginsburg to resign, but to no avail. "She took great offense," he recalls. "She gambled and we lost. I don't want to see Justice Breyer take that same gamble only to lose again."

Returning to the subject of expansion, Chemerinsky offers a grim warning: "Amy Coney Barrett was forty-eight when she was sworn in. If she stays on the court until she's eighty-seven, the same age when Justice Ginsburg died, she'll be a Justice until the year 2059. It is also likely that other conservatives currently on the court will be with her for another decade or more. So, unless we agree to accept a very conservative court for a long time to come, I don't see any solution but court expansion."

As unattainable as that goal may seem at the moment, the expansion movement is likely to get louder and larger in the future. "Every time the court comes out with an extreme decision, it makes the argument on expansion and rebalancing for us," says Kang.

Next term, Kang says, could prove to be the turning point for the movement, as the court is scheduled to hear cases on abortion, gun control, and possibly affirmative action—all hot-button subjects that will place the court directly in the political crosshairs heading into the 2022 elections and beyond.

If Democrats and progressives don't move the needle on court reform, they will be at least partly responsible for the failure. "The right wing in this country has had a leg up on court packing for a generation," says University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos, who has endorsed the call for Breyer's resignation and also supports expansion. "They've been laser-focused. Much of the left still subscribes to the delusion that the courts are nonpartisan and neutral."

Belkin, for his part, pledges there will be no retreat on the court-reform front. "If someone steals your wallet," he says, "you don't walk away. You take it back." The same, he reminds us, applies to democracy.

The Supreme Court is poised to radically expand the Second Amendment

This story was first published at The Progressive.

The United States is locked and loaded. This nation has more guns than people and, not surprisingly, an appalling level of gun violence.

The gun homicide rate in the United States is nearly eight times higher than the rate in Canada, and a whopping 100 times higher than in Britain. This year is shaping up to be particularly horrific. As of July 10, the United States had recorded more than 23,200 deaths from firearms, counting both suicides and unlawful killings, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Gun Violence Archive. We also have had more than 340 mass shootings (defined as an event involving four or more victims).

In any sane democracy, one might expect the highest court in the land to step in and do something to uphold sensible gun-control regulations when given the opportunity. But in fact, our Supreme Court is poised to do just the opposite in a case it will hear next fall.

The case is New York State Pistol Association v. Corlett. It was brought by two individuals and the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association to overturn a New York law that places strict limits on the issuance of concealed weapons permits.

Under New York's regulatory scheme, people seeking such permits are required to demonstrate a special need for protection—"proper cause" in the words of the statute—to qualify. The NRA contends the law violates the Second Amendment. It wants even more guns on our streets and in our communities.

After losing in the lower courts, the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, where they are considered likely to prevail. With the addition of three Trump appointees—Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—conservatives now hold a solid 6-3 majority on our most powerful judicial body. No longer constrained by the need for caution and compromise, they are set to dramatically extend gun rights under the Second Amendment.

Should the New York statute be declared unconstitutional, similar measures in California, New Jersey, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and elsewhere could also fall, with dire and deadly consequences for public safety.

It's worth remembering, as we prepare for the onslaught, that the Supreme Court wasn't always a friendly venue for the NRA and the gun-rights lobby. To the contrary, prior to the court's landmark 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, the great weight of academic scholarship as well as the court's 1939 decision in United States v. Miller had construed the Second Amendment, in keeping with the actual debates of the Constitutional Convention, as protecting gun ownership only in connection with service in long-since antiquated state militias.

Heller stood the prior consensus on its head, courtesy of the controversial 5-4 majority opinion in the case authored by the conservative fanatic Antonin Scalia. Scalia's perspective emerged victorious, but not without an intense struggle inside the court. As Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by three of his colleagues, wrote in dissent:

The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia. It was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several States. Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature's authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms.

In 2010, the court issued another 5-4 decision in McDonald v. Chicago, which extended Heller, holding that the individual right to bear arms is "incorporated" by the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause and is therefore applicable to the states and local governments. The Second Amendment, as interpreted by Scalia, thus became the law of the land. The amendment has since been elevated in rightwing circles to the status of holy writ.

Both Scalia and Stevens have since passed, but the clashing views they espoused on the Second Amendment have endured, even as the United States careens from one blood-stained catastrophe to the next, from the March 16 spa shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, which claimed eight lives; to the May 26 slayings in San Jose, California, in which ten people died; and the July 4 incident in Toledo, Ohio, in which one person was killed and eleven others were wounded.

Although Heller and McDonald were the products of extreme rightwing judicial activism, they were technically limited in scope, as they dealt with the right to keep guns in the home. Ever since those cases were decided, however, gun-rights groups have worked to bring a new test case to the Supreme Court to extend the right to bear arms beyond the home. They almost succeeded last year in another case from New York, but that appeal was ultimately dismissed.

Now, they have another vehicle in Corlett, which could well remove the last remaining judicial guardrails on the Second Amendment.

Woe to us all if that happens.

A dark preview of the right-wing Supreme Court's sweeping agenda

This story was first published in The Progressive.

Don't be fooled by the Supreme Court's rejection of former President Donald Trump's baseless challenges to the results of the 2020 election. The high tribunal is no friend of liberals and progressives.

With the addition of three Trump appointees—Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—conservatives now hold a solid 6-3 majority on the nation's most powerful judicial body. No longer constrained by the need for compromise and caution, they are poised to drive U.S. law dramatically to the right.

By the time the court concludes its current term at the end of June, it will hand down decisions that could gut Obamacare, undermine the Voting Rights Act, elevate "religious liberty" interests above other Constitutional rights, and deal organized labor another major setback.

And the potential damage won't stop there. Next term, which begins in October, the court will pass judgment not only on Mississippi's draconian abortion law, but also on a new and far-reaching Second Amendment appeal from New York.

Here's a closer look at the key cases.

Health care:

All eyes are on California v. Texas, the latest assault on the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

As originally enacted, the "individual mandate" in the ACA required most people to obtain health insurance or pay a monetary penalty. In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the mandate as a proper exercise of Congress's power to levy taxes.

In 2017, however, Congress got rid of the penalty as part of the Trump Administration's outrageously pro-corporate tax reform legislation. Although Congress did not explicitly repeal the mandate and left the rest of the ACA intact (remember John McCain's famous thumbs-down vote on the Senate floor?), a coalition of largely GOP-controlled states led by Texas filed a federal lawsuit to declare both the mandate and the entire ACA unconstitutional. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor, a George W. Bush appointee and a Federalist Society member who may just be the most reactionary jurist in the country, agreed, and issued a sweeping ruling that, if upheld, would overturn the entire ACA.

Urged by California and a group of largely Democratic-led states, the Supreme Court opted to review the case, and conducted oral arguments in November. If the court affirms Reed's decision and strikes down the entire ACA, it will commit an act of judicial barbarism. Should the court topple the mandate but preserve the rest of the act, the result would be less egregious, but would likely fuel additional challenges to other sections of the ACA.

Such a challenge is currently underway in another lawsuit pending before Judge O'Connor that aims to invalidate the act's requirement that birth control, cancer screenings and other forms of preventive care be covered by all health insurance policies.

Voting rights:

Voting rights are another area that have come under threat by SCOTUS's new conservative majority, most recently with a pair of cases from Arizona, Arizona Republican Party v. Democratic National Committee and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee.

In its 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court declared the "pre-clearance" requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) unconstitutional. The preclearance process, as set forth in sections 4 and 5 of the VRA, was a bulwark against voter suppression, compelling states and local governments with a history of voting discrimination to obtain advance approval from the Department of Justice or a panel of federal judges before instituting changes in election procedures.

Preclearance placed the burden of proof and the costs of initiating litigation on the proponents of voter suppression. Shelby County flipped the burden, forcing defenders of voting rights to file and fund expensive lawsuits against suppression measures under section 2 of the VRA.

The court is now reexamining section 2 in the Arizona cases. Depending on the scope of its ruling, the court could deal another crippling blow to voting rights amid a massive upsurge of voter suppression bills introduced in states across the country in the aftermath of the 2020 elections. Oral arguments were heard in March.

"Religious liberty":

Far-right Christian views of abortion, health care, and sexuality are also getting renewed attention in SCOTUS, as in the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.

Since its 2014 ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, the Supreme Court's conservatives have been on a mission to uphold the "religious liberty" interests of privately held corporations that exclude birth control coverage from employee health-insurance benefits, religious schools that receive public funding for infrastructure improvements, bakers who refuse to decorate wedding cakes for gay customers, and, more recently, churches that object to COVID-19 lockdown regulations.

In Fulton, Catholic Social Services (CSS), a faith-based foster-care agency that refuses to place children with LGBTQ+ parents, is trying to extend the religious-liberty winning streak. CSS argues it should be exempt from Philadelphia's nondiscrimination policies governing foster-care and adoption placements. If the recent past is any prologue, don't bet against CSS. Oral arguments took place in November.


Labor rights and the ability of workers to organize, too, seem ready to take a hit in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid.

The Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts has never been kind to organized labor. In 2018, the court held in Janus v. AFSCME that the collection of fair-share fees from nonconsenting public employees to finance collective bargaining violated the First Amendment.

In Cedar Point Nursery, the court has been asked to scuttle a 1975 California law championed by Cesar Chavez that allows organizers temporary access to farms and fields to encourage workers to join unions. A group of growers contends the law allows for acts of trespass in violation of their property rights under the Fifth Amendment. Oral arguments were heard in March.

Gun ownership:

In its landmark 2008 opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court held for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to gun ownership.

Heller dealt specifically with the right to keep guns in the home. Since then, gun rights organizations like the NRA have worked to bring another test case to the Supreme Court to extend the right to bear arms beyond the home.

They may have found their vehicle in New York State Pistol Association v. Corlett, which challenges a New York law that places strict limits on the issuance of concealed weapons permits. If the lawsuit succeeds, there will be even more lethal weapons in our communities. The case has been placed on the docket for the court's next term, which commences in October.

Reproductive rights:

Of all the fevered dreams of the American right, nothing approaches the desire to overturn Roe v. Wade and revoke the constitutional right to abortion. The case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization may make the right's dream a reality.

At issue is a 2018 Mississippi law that bans almost all abortions after fifteen weeks, roughly two months earlier than the standard for fetal viability set by Roe. Like Corlett, Dobbs has been placed on next term's calendar. It promises to be a blockbuster.

Predicting the precise outcome of Supreme Court cases is often difficult. It's always possible that the Justices who comprise the court's conservative majority will take a scalpel rather than an axe to their deliberations in the pivotal cases before them. But one thing is certain: The power is now in their hands.

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