Year of new lows for the high court

York Dispatch editorial board

The Supreme Court wrapped up its 2021-22 docket on June 30. And not a moment too soon.

In what will go down as one of the most consequential terms in history, the nine-member court tacked hard to starboard in a series of decisions that were nothing less than a conservative wish list.

Never mind precedent, consistency or confirmation-hearing declarations, the new court — one-third Trump-appointed, two-thirds conservative and eager to leave both stamps on decisions large and small — turned back the clock on women’s rights, Native American rights, public health, public safety, environmental progress, the separation of church and state, and fair elections.

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Chief among the lamentable rulings was the reversal of Roe v. Wade, which removed federal protections for abortions and related services. With conservative states now falling all over themselves to enact zero-tolerance anti-abortion measures, women are well on their way to becoming second-class citizens, with agency over neither their bodies nor their health care.

Adding to the sense of isolation for women, some states are seeking to criminalize efforts to assist those seeking abortions in states where it remains legal. South Carolina, for example, is weighing a measure that would make it illegal to simply tell someone where they could obtain an abortion. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wants to fine businesses in his state upwards of $100,000 each time they pay for an employee to obtain an out-of-state abortion.

Anti and Pro Roe v. Wade protesters outside the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 24, 2022.

With exceptions rare for victims or rape and incest (even if they’re minors) in many of the new or pending anti-abortion bills, the cost of the Supreme Court’s decision in pain, sorrow and, ultimately, lives will be incalculable.

Causing pain almost seemed a prerequisite for court decisions. Just days after a pair of mass shootings moved Congress to pass the nation’s first firearm restrictions in more than 20 years, the court knocked down a New York state law seeking “proper cause” to carry a gun in public. The result will be a more heavily armed civilian population — a none-too-reassuring result in a nation where more than 300 people a day are shot.

And what good can come of the decision to hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to fight climate change by preventing it from enforcing limits on the emission of greenhouse gasses? Or the loosening of Miranda rights in a nation where suspicion of policing is rampant? Or limiting the ability of Native American nations to prosecute all crimes committed on their land? Or tearing down church-state separations by endorsing school prayer and funneling public taxes to private, religious schools? Or upholding partisan and/or racially gerrymandered political districts?

“The Supreme Court went a lot farther a lot faster than I expected it to this term,” Tara Leigh Grove, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told the New York Times.

And it shows no signs of slowing down. It has already agreed to hear a case next term that would give states veritable carte blanche in running — and, it is to be feared, deciding — federal elections. And with Justice Clarence Thomas opining about revisiting legal precedents for LGBTQ rights and contraception, even this past term, horrendous as it was, may be far from the bottom.

One silver lining: Ketanji Brown Jackson has joined the court as the nation’s first Black, female justice. If her confirmation testimony and broad experience are any indication, she will be an admirable successor to retired Justice Stephen Breyer, whom she succeeds.

Other than that, given the court’s makeup and its blatant intent to reshape America along hyper-conservative lines, there is little to cheer and much to fear in the direction the court and, as a result, the country, are headed.