Barbarians in Robes

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gather for an official group portrait to include new Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, top row, far right, at the Supreme Court Building in Washington

The Committee to Defend Rich, Bigoted Old White Men (Preferably Patriarchal in the Pope Benedict Mode, and Zealously Republican)—otherwise known as the five Republican justices on the Supreme Court—is on a roll. The Committee is closing out this session with a bang, delivering a satchel of decisions that harks back in its economics to the Lochner court of 1905 (which struck down New York’s law that said bakers couldn’t be made to work more than ten hours a day or 60 hours a week, because it violated the free speech of employers) and in its racial attitudes to the Dred Scott court of 1857 (slightly updated for appearances' sake).

This spring, the Committee ruled that employers could force their workers to resolve disputes with their employer by going through an employer-dominated arbitration process, rather than go to court via class-action suits. The decision flatly ignored the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which gives all employees, union or not, the right to seek redress for grievances, doing so by a tortured reading of a 1920s arbitration decision that preceded the NLRA. And later this week, most likely Wednesday, the Committee is likely to rule in the Janus case that public-sector unions cannot collect fees from people it is legally required to represent in matters of bargaining and grievances, a decision that would deal a major blow to the largest unions in the land, and would diminish their capacity to help turn out minority voters and everything else that Republicans loathe.

Moving from the Committee’s class bias to its racial, religious, and gender biases, today’s decision upholding the Muslim Travel Ban is in the best tradition of the Oriental Exclusion Act and the immigration restrictions that from 1924 through 1965 effectively limited immigration to people coming from Northwestern Europe. How it squares with the First Amendment’s prohibition on laws dealing with religious establishments—well, I can’t see how it does square with that. No matter, apparently, to the Committee. In another of today’s decisions, this one to gladden the patriarchal, misogynistic hearts of our own evangelicals, the Committee ruled that pregnancy crisis centers need not be required to inform the women who come to them for guidance that legal abortion is one of their options, and how they might pursue it.

Wait—there’s more! On Monday, the Committee struck down a lower court’s order that overturned race-based gerrymandering in Texas, in a decision that cautioned potential litigants that they needed to assume the good faith of legislators in drawing district lines. In a sense, this decision was a two-fer, not only discouraging future challenges to race-based gerrymandering but also advantaging Republicans in future election contests. Fittingly, the decision came on the fifth anniversary of the Shelby decision, in which the Committee (then with Antonin Scalia rather than Neil Gorsuch) effectively struck down the government’s ability to enforce the Voting Rights Act in states where anyone with eyes could see how white racism still shaped the political and societal order.

And it’s only Tuesday! More judicial barbarism still to come!

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