There is no way to overstate this: The replacement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy by anyone on the conservatives’ judicial dream list held by President Trump will fundamentally change America.
The Supreme Court — with a firm conservative majority that will last most of our lifetimes — can and will change the very complexion of our country for decades, if not a century.
This is not a drill. The basic constitutional and legal underpinnings of issues that every citizen cares about — things that affect our lives every single day — sit on an active fault line. The earthquake this fall will shift it all to the right. Next comes the tsunami of high court litigation aiming to overrule seminal rulings on reproduction, LGBTQ rights, immigration, policing, criminal sentencing, health care, civil rights and more.
For much of the last decade, Kennedy sat at the center of an evenly divided court — one of the most powerful people in Washington, literally the decider of pivotal issues of our time: the individual right to bear firearms, states’ ability to ban late-term abortions, the constitutionality of executing minors or mentally disabled people, the strength or weakness of the Voting Rights Act. He gave corporations the ability to funnel unlimited cash into election campaigns. He also gave same-sex couples the right to marry and underscored the importance of their dignity. At least all sides had a chance.
Now he not only walks away from that unique power, he has ceded it to the right. We can now expect the court not only to refuse to restore the Justice Department’s ability to protect voting rights, it will help states with a history of voter suppression erect more barriers to the polls. States will begin outlawing abortion because they know the high court will let them. Affirmative action? Gone. Health care? If you have the deep pockets to afford it. LGBTQ protections will be out, religious protection (of those who cite the Bible, not the Quran) will be in. Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, and now Kennedy himself have worked in tandem to ensure that.
But we should’ve seen this coming. This term Kennedy gave strong clues that he is fine leaving the court in the hands of the staunchest conservatives of his party. On his way out the door he helped gut the power of public unions, let racial and political gerrymandering go unchecked, sided with anti-abortion activists, sanctioned discrimination against gay couples and allowed Trump’s travel ban — born of a desire to keep Muslims out of our country — to stand.
He set the court’s course before jumping ship. And now it’s ready to sail, stage right.
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