Supreme Court Rolls Back a Right and Inflames a Divided Country


A handful of Supreme Court cases are seared into the American collective consciousness. Friday’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will now join that list — remembered for a historic reversal of a constitutional right enshrined half a century ago and for further inflaming an already deeply divided country.

By quashing Roe v. Wade and by ending the guaranteed right to abortion nationwide, the newly entrenched conservative bloc has set the country on a path to a legal and political war destined to last for years, a conflict perhaps even more intense than the one that has raged since Roe was decided in 1973.

The implications of the court’s decision are difficult to overestimate and almost impossible to predict. The immediate impact will be felt by millions of women in states that will now ban abortion in all or virtually all circumstances. But it could also be felt by others who now fear their rights are at risk, especially those in the LGBTQ community.

The longer-term effects could further separate the country into culturally divided red and blue enclaves, with vastly different laws and rights, adding to the balkanization of the United States. Ultimately, this could – could – help reshape the political landscape of the country, although it depends on the degree to which pro-abortion rights supporters – and opponents of the court’s current composition – mobilize in the same way as abortion opponents have done so for decades.

In undoing something that has shaped women’s lives for generations now, the court grappled with a moral issue, about which many Americans have complicated and sometimes conflicting feelings, and seemingly avoided any groundwork. agreement.

Only Chief Justice John Roberts, of the court’s six conservatives, sought a less confrontational path. He failed to bring in his fellow Tories, who chose a more absolutist path, and joined them in overthrowing Roe. Now, no other decision is likely to define the Roberts court in history as much as this one.

Friday’s decision is a triumph for the doctrine of originalism, with significant consequences for a country with an increasingly diverse and tolerant population. “The version of American history you get by limiting your historical evidence to documents that originalists consider mythical gives you centuries of constitutional history when women and people of color were completely disenfranchised,” said said historian Jill Lepore on Friday. “And that is now the basis for the continued denial of rights.”

The court has been seen, perhaps too much in recent years, as a branch of government that has advanced the cause of the rights of all Americans. Much of that reputation was earned during the years when Earl Warren, the former Governor of California, was Chief Justice. During his tenure, the court ordered the desegregation of schools in Brown v. Board of Education, upheld the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and guaranteed the right of married couples to contraception.

More recently, the court has had mixed views on the issue of rights, moving in a more progressive direction on same-sex marriage, but reducing rights in other areas, particularly the right to vote. “I think this decision is likely to put an exclamation mark on a change in court direction that has been going on for decades,” said William Galston of the Brookings Institution. “After this decision, no one should be persuaded that we are living in a new era.”

This new era might, for some Americans, seem like a very old era, one where the rights of women and minorities were limited or non-existent. Judge Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, sought to allay those fears by noting that the legal arguments that led to Roe’s overturning were unique to the issue of abortion. But Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion, suggested that a whole host of rights should now be reconsidered, including same-sex marriage.

Friday’s decision was announced when Politico released a leaked draft of Alito’s strongly worded opinion in May amid signs not only that there were enough votes to enforce Mississippi’s law that banned the abortion after 15 weeks, but also to go further and completely overthrow Roe. And yet the final ruling landed Friday morning with extraordinary power, a legal thunderclap that ended any hope the court would seek an outcome that would have further restricted but not eliminated a woman’s right to an abortion. .

Despair and celebration followed the announcement. President Joe Biden, speaking just hours after the ruling was released, vowed that the fight to legalize abortion nationwide “must not be the last word” and called on those seeking to preserve this right to stand and vote in November. “This fall,” he said, “Roe is on the ballot,” as he echoed the words of an angry House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has spoke earlier today.

Abortion opponents, cheered by a legal victory sought since Roe was decided, pushed in the opposite direction. Former Vice President Mike Pence, one of the nation’s staunchest abortion opponents, hailed the ruling and called on like-minded people to push for a ban on the procedure in all states. from the country. “We must not rest and not give in until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the country,” he told Breitbart News.

This is the moment abortion opponents have long dreamed of and abortion proponents have long dreaded. But none can be certain how this will reverberate and spread over time. Predictions about the future come with big caveats.

Public opinion is generally on the side of those who favor legal abortion in most cases and those who favored maintaining rights under Roe. But lacking numbers in Congress, they lacked the power to enact a national law codifying Roe. They must mobilize in a way they have never done before to convert public opinion into political leverage.

Abortion opponents and elected Republicans can succeed in many states, but there are risks to their position nationally. And any attempt to enact a nationwide law banning abortion, should Republicans take control of the House and Senate in November, could be met with fierce public opposition and political backlash.

Each year, the Supreme Court takes on major cases involving some of the most contentious issues in the country. Just a day before releasing its abortion ruling, the court struck down a century-old New York law that restricted the right to bear arms in public. As controversial as that was, and coming just as Congress was approving the first gun safety law in years, it was only a prelude to the decision to overturn Roe.

The conservative High Court bloc, created by three appointments by former President Donald Trump and secured by earlier legislative maneuvers by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., which was expressly designed to refuse additions liberals to the court, now has the final say on the most important questions of case law. Friday’s decision underscored the power these judges now wield and raised the question of what comes next.


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