Will we choose history's right side?
In Amy Coney Barrett, Republicans again endorse a Supreme Court candidate that might carry us backwards.
In her confirmation hearing before the Senate, Amy Coney Barrett followed recent tradition, pretending she never had an important idea in her life.
Is bullying voters at polls illegal? She wouldn't weigh in. An election postponing president? Hmm. Hmm. She'd have to think about it.
What is climate change? "I've heard about climate change," she admitted, warily stressing she's not a physicist. "I wouldn't say I'm firm about it."
If asked about astronomy, she may have explained: "I read about Earth being round. I wouldn't say I'm firm on it.
But for all the obfuscation the Democratic president nominees have participated in, there is no denying the fundamental facts the Barrett: a) is really bright; and b) will solidify a conservative Supreme Court plurality whose judicial ideology was on the wrong side of many of my life's great concerns.
We often differentiate "independent judges" from "conservative judges." Instead, the divide might be between forward-thinking judges and backward-thinking judges.
Partly due to politicians' paralysis, partly due to racist electoral processes, forward-thinking judges often had to step up over the past 70 years to tug the United States ahead. Those judges chipped at Jim Crow, overturning prohibitions banning interracial marriage, abortion, and combating racial and sexual inequality.
Only this week, Bernard Cohen, the lawyer who won the 1967 Supreme Court interracial marriage case, died — a reminder of how recent such success is. In that scenario, Richard and Mildred Love, a white man and black woman married in Washington , D.C., had moved to Virginia, where at 2 a.m. police blocked their residence. And arrested in bed for breaking the anti-miscegenation statute. Such statutes were struck by forward-thinking judges — and it was not about "activist judges" but about decency, humanity, and the 14th amendment.
As recent as 2003, enlightened Supreme Court judges struck down federal sodomy laws that could be used to punish lovers of the same sex. Three backward-thinking judges, including Antonin Scalia, Barrett's mentor, may have allowed the bedroom's Taliban-style prosecutions of gay people for affection. (Barrett rejected Wednesday's hearing to state whether the matter was rightly decided.)
It is true, as some conservatives contend, that politicians, not judges, preferably blazed this road of social change. Yet securing their voting rights is hard for those denied voting rights, and judicial passivity in these cases may have endorsed segregation, prejudice, misogyny, and homophobia.
That takes us to another historic field where conservatives, including Barrett, were also on the wrong side of history — access to healthcare.
For the past hundred years, developing nations have implemented universal health care programs, with one notable exception being the United States. That's one reason why next month 's election is such a watershed, for one American political party is seeking to join the rest of the developed world to have free healthcare, and the other is doing its hardest to strip away what we have.
G.O.P.'s successful. Census figures indicate that well before the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump's number of uninsured Americans has increased by 2.3 million — and another 2.9 million without insurance after the pandemic struck. Most disturbing of all, according to a recent Georgetown report, about one million children missed insurance under Trump.
I'm not going to scare Barrett readers to join a republican majority to repeal the Affordable Care Act. My guess is the Democrats exaggerate the risk; the Republican claim in the case, to be heard next month, is such a legal stretch that it is impossible to succeed entirely, even though Barrett is on court.
But it's possible, and it's such a cataclysm — maybe 20 million Americans losing insurance during a pandemic — that it's worth a shudder. It should also remind us of the value of renewing America's imperfect, on-again-off march of civilization, away from bigotry and encouraging all people.
Barrett isn't a bad person; she appears to be a smart prosecutor with an admirable life tale. She's negotiating with a gang of Republican senators to snatch a Supreme Court seat. This great larceny will succeed. But for voters, this hearing should underline the wider fight over nation leadership.
Voters can not weigh on Barrett's candidacy, however they can correct the course of this government.
Here's the basic question: will voters reward the group working to have more healthcare, or the group that has sadly taken one million insurance children? Will voters help tug the U.S. forward, or will they embrace backward thinkers on the side of sexism, segregation, bigotry, and voter suppression?
What hand of history can you stand at the polls?