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Chief Justice John Roberts shaking hands with former President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts before the State of the Union address in the House chamber on February 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Leah Millis-Pool/Getty Images)

Analysis Details How Anti-Democratic Supreme Court Has 'Hit Rock Bottom'

"The Court's track record on democracy is particularly woeful and concerning, given that a strong democracy is essential to a functioning America."

Jon Queally

A new analysis released Wednesday argues the right-wing majority now controlling the U.S. Supreme Court has dragged the institution to its lowest point in history by overtly and repeatedly attacking the bedrock foundation upon which the nation was built: representative democracy itself.

In the report—titled The Supreme Court’s Role in the Degradation of Democracy—researchers with the Campaign Legal Center detail how the Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, has issued rulings in a "consistently anti-democratic" pattern and by doing so reversed "decades of work by prior Courts that sought to perfect and protect our democracy."

"When one branch of the federal government has gone this far astray, the only solution is a firm application of the 'checks and balances' the Framers designed to prevent such abuses of power."

According to the analysis:

The Roberts Court has turned on our democracy, choosing in every important case to reach results undermining popular sovereignty and equal voting rights. This behavior has accelerated and become increasingly extreme with the arrival of Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. The Court has greenlit laws that make it harder to vote, especially for people of color, the poor, and the young, and permitted unbridled gerrymandering to entrench political factions unable to win majority approval. At the same time, the Roberts Court has invalidated or critically weakened laws designed to protect voting rights and reduce the undue influence of money in politics. These decisions, taken together, form a stark and troubling pattern of distorting democracy at every opportunity.

Paul Smith, senior vice president of Campaign Legal Center, who has personally argued over 20 cases before the Supreme Court, said the institution is at an all-time low.

"The U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has hit rock bottom," said Smith.

"The Court's track record on democracy is particularly woeful and concerning, given that a strong democracy is essential to a functioning America," he added. "The Roberts Court repeatedly tells voters that they can turn to the political process for relief from rulings that they may disagree with, but then in its rulings, increasingly makes it more difficult for voters—particularly voters of color—to participate in that process."

The analysis examines a number of decisions over the 15 years—including Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), Shelby County v. Holder (2013), Rucho v. Common Cause (2019), and others—that together expose how the Court has methodically "weakened laws designed to protect voting rights and reduce the influence of money in politics."

With a focus on decisions that centered on ballot access for voters, partisan gerrymandering, and campaign finance reforms effort, the report concludes that judicial activism and rulings of the Roberts Court "have done, and continue to do, damage to voters, American democracy generally, and to the legitimacy of the Supreme Court itself."

What should be done to halt or reverse the Court's destructive march?

"Better lawyering by advocates for democracy is not the solution," the analysis says in response to that question.

The various rulings coupled with a review of their historical significance, reads the report, "show that this Court acts with determination to undermine democracy, even when its stated reasons for doing so are made out of whole cloth and utterly unpersuasive."

"When one branch of the federal government has gone this far astray, the only solution is a firm application of the 'checks and balances' the Framers designed to prevent such abuses of power," it continues. "Indeed, the Court’s consistent undermining of American democracy is a quintessential example of why our Constitution leaves no single actor or institution immune from correction."

With that, the Campaign Legal Center that only Congress is adequately positioned to reform the court in order to protect a democracy under threat.

"Congress must step up," the report argues. "It has the constitutional authority to correct many—though not all—of the Court's most egregious anti-democratic rulings. Congress has authority over the size, jurisdiction, and other particulars of how the Supreme Court and the federal court system is structured."

The report says the Framers empowered Congress with the ability to institute specific reforms over the court, "such as changing the number of Justices and setting term limits."

In the end, it concludes, "a serious, consistent, and substantial legislative effort to restore American democracy is the only remedy we have left" to put a stop to the Roberts Court's "anti-democratic crusade."


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