A few thoughts on Amy Coney Barrett and all of this:
Sometimes I have a fantasy about being from some other seemingly more well-functioning place where the problems of the United States interested me and affected me somewhat but were not the problems of my own life in quite the same way. “Things seem pretty decent in Norway,” I think to myself. Norway has its own problems, but you know what I mean. How nice it would be to observe and opine and feel from afar and not be right in the lava all the time.
Monday was one of those times. A 6-3 far-right Supreme Court, that apocalyptic White House party they had for Barrett, the Wisconsin stuff…just doom doom doom. Maybe I could wake up and, presto, I was just a contended Oslo type wondering what the hell was going on in that other place.
But no, I am not from Oslo, I am from here, it’s my problem, it’s our problem, ugh.
Barrett’s ascension to the court opens up just the biggest world of horrible possibilities. It can sometimes be hard to “go there” mentally, but the Supreme Court is capable of handing down rulings of great cruelty and malice. This is the body that gave us Dred Scott, that endorsed Japanese internment, that enshrined separate but equal, that pronounced itself cool with eugenics, that said that maximum working hours were unconstitutional, that backed anti-sodomy laws, and that only in the last ten years repeatedly shredded the right to vote in fair elections.
Oh, and it’s the court that stole an election just 20 years ago. And three of the lawyers who helped it steal that election are now on the court. So yes, things can go way south way quickly. Barrett could help steal the election for Donald Trump and signal her intent to destroy Obamacare all in the same week! She could help overturn Roe v Wade. She could help do all the bad things is what I’m saying, and we’re just supposed to deal, because the Supreme Court is, well, it’s in the name. Supreme. Nine people who rule over us and whose decisions are cast in stone and who leave us fantasizing about which one of them might have a skydiving accident just at the moment when the Senate is the right way, because what else are we supposed to do?
That of course brings us to…what we should do. It goes without saying that Democrats should add justices to the court if they get the chance to do it. This is something that moved from a “would be great, should happen” kind of idea to a blinding, obvious necessity in the blink of an eye. Packing the court is perfectly constitutional, and beyond that, it is what is needed to overcome a conservative rump that is determined to subvert the democratic will of the majority at every turn. These judges are out here coming up with the most insane justifications for blatantly stealing elections from the rest of us! They do not deserve to be in charge like this.
Really, though, that’s not enough. We have to think bigger than just “how do we deal with the Supreme Court.” It’s almost as if our whole system of government is a creaky old set of crumbling institutions where we all must remain in thrall to the compromises a bunch of slaveowners hashed out 250 years ago just because that’s the way things go. No! Why do we have the Senate? Why do we have the Electoral College? Why do we have lifetime judicial appointments? In my wildest dreams, I picture doing away with the presidency altogether and installing a parliamentary system of government. Presidents are dumb! Pack the court, yes, but then pack the Constitution, with dynamite, and blow it up, and start a new constitution, one that does not force us to accede to the ancient whims of the old monsters who got this benighted place rolling. Rip the whole thing up.
I suppose that’s a bit of a “long-term” thing, though, so for the moment it’s probably best to focus on packing the court. Democrats are currently saying a lot of things about how nothing is off the table and how Republicans will rue the day they jammed Barrett onto the court, but let’s be real—does anyone believe that they will actually follow through? Joe Biden’s big idea for court reform is a bipartisan commission with lots of conservative scholars to help figure out what to do with the court. Does anyone think he’s going to be on board with packing the court? He doesn’t even want term limits for judges!
This is the party that started the Barrett confirmation process talking about how they were going to go all out to oppose her, and how they were going to use “every arrow” they had to fight the good fight. When the fight was over, Barrett’s approval ratings had shot way up among Democrats, and the head of their opposition efforts was raving about how great the confirmation hearings had been. This is not a party that is either capable of or particularly interested in the kind of political work needed to push something like court-packing through. Court-packing is not revolutionary in the “actual revolution” sense, but it is revolutionary in the “changes to our modern way of politics” sense, and the Democrats are as potent a counter-revolutionary force as we’ve ever had. They exist in large part to capture revolutionary instincts, water them down to virtually nothing, process them through an electoral machine, and then turn around and blame people for being mad at them about it. This is the party that’s going to blow the Supreme Court up? Let’s just say I hope I’m wrong.
Really, what it comes down to—just like it always does—is power. It always feels boring and vague to say that “the people” have the ability to change things (and not just by voting!!!!) but it’s also the truth. The Supreme Court did all the bad things I mentioned before. It was also forced to retreat from many of those things. Why? Because the popular will overwhelmed it—because ordinary people forced it. Everything seems like a pipe dream until it is just the way things are. There is no rule that says this is how things have to be. Amy Coney Barrett does not need to be in charge of the rest of our lives. We are in charge.