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Pro-choice demonstrators outside Justice Brett Kavanaugh's house

Police officers look on as abortion-rights advocates hold a demonstration outside the home of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on May 18, 2022 in Chevy Chase, Maryland. (Photo: Bonnie Cash/Getty Images)

Is the Right-Wing Supreme Court the Actual Death Panel?

Sadly, this radical right Supreme Court has become what the Republicans said they feared.

John Ross

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned radically to the right. Starting in 2010, the Court decided that corporate spending on politics is protected speech (Citizens United v. FEC). Currently, approximately 84% of Americans think corporate political spending should be limited, but nearly unlimited individual and corporate money is allowed to filter through to campaigns via PACs, Super PACs, and corporate-backed nonprofits such as the Chamber of Commerce that do not have to disclose who the donors are.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010. Republicans claimed it included "death panels" to frighten voters. The ACA survived 70 Republican repeal attempts and three Supreme Court challenges but was hobbled in 2012 when the Court rulled the federal government cannot "coerce" states to expand Medicaid to low-income families by offering to cover 90% of the expenses. This was a "gun to the head" of the states. In fact, this was a gun to the head of millions of uninsured low-income Americans, but more on guns later.

In 2014, the Hobby Lobby case allowed for profit corporations to refuse to cover birth control for its employees as required by the ACA based on the religious freedom of…corporations? I have never seen a corporation in church, have you? This year, the right-wing majority on the Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs decision. States will now decide whether women can make their own reproductive decisions. In contrast, the Court decided reasonable restrictions by states on concealed weapons are now unconstitutional. So, states will decide women's reproductive rights but cannot restrict concealed weapons by requiring firearms training as New York had done.

The right-wing Court has also decided the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot use its rule-setting authority to regulate the CO2 emissions that threaten the health of the entire planet. The EPA used its federal powers to curb acid rain decades ago without a new act of Congress. Now, the Court says limits on fossil fuels are economically and politically "extraordinary" and Congress needs to specifically vote to allow this. It's the Environmental Protection Act. Is trying to protect the environment extraordinary?

They overturned established precedent on school prayer. Coaches are allowed to pray in the middle of a public high school field with his team. No subtle coercion evident for the athletes except if they want to play. Isn't the separation of church and state in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution? The limits on abortion also seem to violate Jefferson's "wall of separation" between church and state. Religions differ on when life begins. The states will now decide this regardless of our religious convictions as actual people. Maybe if we each incorporate, we can guarantee our reproductive and religious freedom in the face of this Court. Not surprisingly, the justices now have the lowest level of public confidence in the past 50 years.

What are health consequences of these decisions? Thirty million Americans remain uninsured and nearly 100 million are underinsured and at risk of skipping care. They risk ruining both their physical and financial health. For every million uninsured people, about 800 people will die from treatable illness when they fail to seek care. Healthcare bills are the most common cause of personal bankruptcy. If all states expanded Medicaid to near poor families as envisioned under the ACA, it would save thousands of lives and bankruptcies each year.

The EPA has set national standards for air pollutants which are harmful to health and the environment for decades. Air pollution harms neighborhoods of the poor and people of color to a greater degree. About 100,000 excess deaths each year are related to air pollution aggravating heart and lung disease. CO2 and other greenhouse gasses threaten the health of every living thing on the planet. Will all federal regulation of food, drugs, autos, and other product safety be deemed economically and politically "extraordinary" by this Supreme Court? Given the nature of the filibuster, will minority rule apply to all regulatory agencies? What will the Court consider too politically and economically "extraordinary" to be regulated without a specific act of Congress? Should we get ready for some strange gristle in our hotdogs or cars that blow up in an accident?

Maternal mortality from carrying a pregnancy to term is 14 times that of a legal abortion. We should anticipate increased maternal mortality, increased intimate partner violence, and increased poverty for the existing children of women denied control over their own bodies. Countries that provide good sex education, free contraception, comprehensive universal healthcare, free childcare, and safe legal abortions all have lower maternal and infant mortality and fewer abortions. Between 5% and 13% of maternal mortality worldwide is due to complications of unsafe abortions.

Gun violence is soaring but reasonable restriction of concealed firearms is now deemed "unconstitutional." The Constitution guarantees the right to "keep and bear arms" as part of a "well-regulated militia." This right-wing Court opposes well-regulated air, yet they favor unregulated "militias" composed of angry men wielding military grade weapons. Assault weapons regularly maim and murder dozens at workplaces, schools, churches, parades, and shopping malls. On January 6, a violent mob, encouraged by former President Donald Trump, marched on the capitol without going through metal detectors. The current U.S. Supreme Court is dominated by "originalist" justices who believe our Constitution should be interpreted based on the intent of our founders. Should the "right to keep and bear arms" be limited to the single shot flintlock muzzle loaded guns available 240 years ago or do we now have a right to "keep and bear" not only an AR-15 but an F-15 too?

Supreme Court justices take an oath to "administer justice without respect to persons and do equal right to the poor and to the rich" and "to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" without any "purpose of evasion." Several justices testified under oath at appointment hearings that they considered Roe settled precedent. Was there a "purpose of evasion" during their testimony?

Sadly, this radical right Supreme Court has become what the Republicans said they feared: a hyper-partisan "death panel." They no longer have the confidence of six out of ten Americans. The threat to the survival of our democratic republic is clear and present in the behavior of elected officials including the former president who opposed the peaceful transition of power after the 2020 election. They put these justices on the Supreme Court. They also took the same oath to defend the Constitution.

Our best recourse as citizens if we wish to push back on these decisions is to vote for representatives who believe in democracy and will be true to their oath of office. "We, the People" need to vote, vote, vote to counteract this dangerous trend.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Ross

John Ross

Johnathon Ross, MD MPH is Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine, University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and past president of Physicians for a National Health Program.


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