Saturday, June 23, 2007

Bush-League Supreme Court

Of the damage this presidency has done to American society, the worst and longest-lasting is just becoming visible.

As the Supreme Court ends its 2006-2007 term, signs of a tectonic shift in the legal landscape show an ultra-conservative majority in place to curtail individual rights to privacy and protections from discrimination.

In the most striking decision so far, the Court in April upheld by 5-4 a federal law banning a type of abortion in the middle-to-late second trimester.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that the majority opinion "cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away a right declared again and again by this court.”

In the New Yorker this week, Jeffrey Toobin notes that, with the coming of Roberts and Alito, the Court is now poised to fulfill the long-hoped-for conservative agenda: “Expand executive power. End racial preferences intended to assist African-Americans. Speed executions. Welcome religion into the public sphere. And, above all, reverse Roe v. Wade, and allow states to ban abortion.”

It took two Bushes to accomplish this. As a new biography of Clarence Thomas reminds us, in 1991 the first President Bush claimed to have chosen Thomas, who had only one year of experience as a judge, without regard to race to follow the distinguished first African American on the Court, Thurgood Marshall.

After the confirmation hearings, which he had complained were an attempted “high-tech lynching,” Thomas’ presence on the Court turned out to be a boon for the Bushes as his vote created the 5-4 majority that halted the Florida recount in 2000 and awarded the presidency to George W.

Attempting to duplicate his father’s feat of replacing a demographic giant with a dwarf, W in 2005 nominated his White House counsel and former personal attorney, Harriet Miers, for the seat vacated by Sandra Day O’Connor. Conservative outcry led to the withdrawal of the nominee described by Bill Maher as “Bush’s cleaning lady.”

Today the hard-right majority is still tenuous, depending on the swing vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy. But with a year and a half left of the Bush term, human mortality could change that before a new President is sworn in. Either way, whoever takes the oath in 2009 will have a lot to say about American values from then on.

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