The USA Becomes Ever More Divided
28th June 2022
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson on Friday 24th June over-turning Roe v. Wade (1973) ended women’s constitutional right to abortion, and added yet further evidence of America’s lurch to the right. Thirteen states immediately triggered anti-abortion laws and others seem likely to follow suit; more than 26 states will soon have either no or limited access to abortion within their borders. The 5-4 ruling (Chief Justice John G. Roberts gave a divided opinion), shows the domination of the court by conservatives appointed by George Bush (1), George W. Bush (2), and more recently, Donald Trump (3) – not surprisingly Trump greeted the ruling as victory for freedom and his policies. Together with the earlier New York State Supreme Court decision over-turning a law prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons and the heated debate following the latest mass shooting in Uvalde, abortion rights have become a major political issue again. The ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas indicated that the right to contraception, same sex marriage, and gay sex could also now come up for reconsideration.
The court’s decision can be seen against the back-drop of the U.S. House Select committee investigations of the invasion of the Capitol on 6th January this year and the revelations of the apparent challenges to the democratic process from within the Trump administration. The fact that Trump, his supporters, and many Republican politicians still claim the election was stolen is another indication of the divisions that beset America. The election and aftermath, and now the Supreme Court ruling, have all effected political debate and will impact on the coming mid-term elections – they also raise issues once more about the American political system and the Constitution itself.
In ruling as it did, the non-elected Supreme Court seemed to go against not just the wishes of the Democratic President and congressional majority, but also against the wishes of a majority of the public. One justice even acknowledged this fact, but said the court’s job was simply to interpret law against the Constitution – even legal precedent could be ignored. As a result, questions have been asked again about the role of the Supreme Court and there are suggestions that President Biden should be empowered to appoint more justices to correct the political balance. This is not new: in the 1930s a conservative-dominated Supreme Court threatened to undermine Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programmes and led him to propose legislation enabling him to appoint additional justices on an age basis. This was immediately described as “court-packing” and a challenge to the Constitution and Roosevelt was forced to back down – several justices also took the hint and retired enabling him to appoint more sympathetic replacements.
President Biden would undoubtedly face a similar reaction if he proposed such a measure, but together with questions about the American electoral system and the debates surrounding the Second Amendment and the “right to bear arms”, this latest crisis once again points to fundamental flaws in the Constitution and American political system itself. These weaknesses are at the heart of the various challenges that are coming from undemocratic elements on the American right, and they now find support in the Supreme Court itself. The whole tone of political discourse appears to have shifted and any sense of consensus about the direction the country should follow has disappeared. The USA will find it harder now to claim leadership of western “democracy” and may face several years of bitter debate and conflict.