Democrats attack Supreme Court, constitutional freedoms we need

By Terry Evans
October 24, 2022

U.S. bosses, backed by their twin political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, are driving to put the deepening crisis of their capitalist system onto the backs of workers and farmers. Neither of the major capitalist parties, however, is able to establish stable majority governments to rule. When in power, they rule by presidential edicts, not passing legislation.

In this context, the Democrats increasingly seek ways to slander and limit the rights of their opponents, and to attack crucial liberties. An important part of this is Democrats’ growing attacks on the existence and reach of the U.S. Supreme Court, which they see as a further obstacle to imposing policies that they can’t get passed in Congress.

More of them — backed by the editorial staffs of the New York Times and Washington Post — are calling for term-limits for justices or for the court to be enlarged so it can be more easily packed with judges who think “correctly,” that is, as they do. Others simply say the court should be gotten rid of altogether.

Freedom of speech, assembly and worship; freedom from unreasonable search and seizure; the right to a speedy trial of your peers; equal protection under the law; and other rights in the Constitution are crucial. Working people need them when we use our unions to counter employer assaults and in struggles against women’s oppression, Washington’s wars and the many injustices perpetrated by the exploiting class and their governments.

The Supreme Court, like all courts and other parts of the capitalist “justice” system — prisons, cops, parole boards and executioners — serves to protect the interests of the propertied rulers against those of working people. At the same time, the Supreme Court is tasked by the Constitution with no power to make laws, but to rule on the constitutionality of legislation. That includes freedoms and protections conquered in huge struggles over the course of two-and-a-half centuries.

Under this setup, the court has handed down a series of important constitutional rulings backing freedom of worship in recent years. These include overturning discriminatory restrictions imposed by state governments on religious services during the pandemic and defending the right of a high school football coach to kneel in prayer at the end of games.

In June the court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot unilaterally impose “climate change” policies that Democrats have failed to win a majority for in Congress.

These court decisions infuriated liberals and the middle-class left. They come on top of the Dobbs ruling this summer, in which the court overturned the unconstitutional 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, ordering decisions on abortion be returned to the people and their elected representatives. Dobbs opened the door to a necessary debate about why decriminalizing abortion is in the interests of all working people, as part of broader measures to defend women’s rights and the working class.

Elena Kagan was one of three liberal Supreme Court justices outraged by recent court decisions, including the Dobbs ruling. She blames three other justices nominated by former President Donald Trump. “If new members of the court come in,” Kagan says, “and all of a sudden very fundamental principles of law are being overthrown … people have a right to ask, ‘What’s going on there?’”

Challenge to court’s ‘legitimacy’

Fellow liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayer echoed Kagan, saying Sept. 15, “There’s going to be some question about the court’s legitimacy.” Kagan complains the Supreme Court is making rulings that reflect “one set of political views over another.” Her problem is she wants to be able to impose her point of view. As far as she’s concerned, the Constitution has nothing to do with it. Chief Justice John Roberts challenged Kagan’s argument. “If the Court doesn’t retain its legitimate function of interpreting the Constitution, I’m not sure who would take up that mantle,” he said.

Democratic President Joseph Biden weighed in, Oct. 11, portraying the Supreme Court as “more of an advocacy group these days than it is … evenhanded.”

Biden previously said the Dobbs ruling was “the first in our entire history that didn’t just fail to preserve a constitutional freedom, but actually took away a fundamental right.”

Liberal commentators pretend the Dobbs ruling ended legal access to abortion. But abortion remains legal in more than 20 states.

As the Dobbs decision correctly says, the 1973 Roe ruling was unconstitutional. Liberal justices who then held the majority on the court simply made up a schema with no legal precedent to rule on a hotly disputed question in line with their politics. It cut off debate just beginning across the country before a decisive majority had been won.

Overturning Roe, the Dobbs ruling placed decisions on abortion back in the hands of the people and their elected representatives, where it can be debated and fought out alongside other questions that are crucial for advancing the working class. This is to our advantage.

In the wake of the Dobbs ruling, more liberals are openly bemoaning the court’s very existence. The New York Times editors say the court has “been transformed into the judicial arm of the Republican Party.”

Only the election of a Congress that is willing “to discipline the court” and “relegate it to a less central place in our constitutional order” can prevent further “abuse” of power, writes Times columnist Jamelle Bouie.

He says the biggest threat isn’t former President Donald Trump, as horrible as he thinks Trump is, but “in fact, the Constitution” itself. Under the Constitution, he says, Trump came within “a few tens of thousands of additional votes in a few states” to winning the 2020 election. In addition to attacking the Constitution and the court, Bouie advocates getting rid of the Senate and the Electoral College, in hopes of assuring Democrats’ domination of government for decades to come.

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez urges Congress to sharply limit the high court’s reach, barring it from ruling on the constitutionality of laws relating to “abortion, marriage equality … and intimacy.”

Bouie, like other liberal commentators, heaps praise on Biden’s Sept. 1 Philadelphia speech — held, ironically, in the very hall where the Constitution was written — in which the president targeted “MAGA Republicans” as “a clear and present danger.” This is why the Democrats have been working overtime to refurbish the FBI and use it to target Trump and his supporters. This is the capitalist rulers’ main political police outfit whose task is to go after workers, our unions, fighters for Black rights, opponents of Washington’s wars, and groups like the Socialist Workers Party.

The Democrats’ war against constitutional freedoms is the central question in U.S. politics today, a deadly threat to the working class. Defending and extending these protections is central to building unions and advancing struggles of workers and farmers.