Fri, Jul

An Ugly New Era of “States’ Rights”


US CONSTITUTION - There’s a lot to be worried about in the draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade — and with it, half a century of constitutional precedent.

At least 26 states are likely to criminalize abortions, often without exceptions for rape, incest, or life-threatening pregnancies. In Louisiana, people seeking abortions could even face execution, which doesn’t strike me as particularly pro-life.

A few states are already rushing to attack contraception too, with officials in Idaho and Louisiana pushing to ban IUDs, the morning after pill, and other common birth control methods. Hardline lawmakers are also likely to ban methods of conception, including in-vitro fertilization, or IVF.

Down the line, experts warn that the rights to interracial marriage, same-sex marriage, and even divorce, parental custody, and the right to accept or refuse medical treatment could be in jeopardy. People’s control over their own intimate decisions and private lives is at stake.

But among the most alarming things in the draft ruling is its sneering pretense that this is somehow about safeguarding democracy. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito.

That’s the same “states’ rights” deceit once used to defend segregation.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once called states “laboratories of democracy.” These days, as former Hamilton County, Ohio commissioner David Pepper put it in his book of the same name, many have become “laboratories of autocracy.”

Pepper and I share a home state that’s a case in point.

On two occasions, Ohio voters have overwhelmingly mandated fairer legislative districts. And four times, a bipartisan state Supreme Court majority has held that the extremely gerrymandered maps Ohio Republicans have proposed violate the state constitution.

Ohio Republicans are nonetheless forcing these illegal maps on voters to protect their unlawful one-party rule. “Returning power over basic civil rights to illegally gerrymandered states like Ohio is an absolute disaster in waiting,” concludes David DeWitt in the Ohio Capital Journal.

But it gets even more absurd elsewhere.

In states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina, Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly gotten more votes than their Republican counterparts. But rigged maps keep giving Republicans sizable majorities — which they’ve then used in all three states to strip power from Democratic governors elected statewide.

Across the country, methods like these are used to ram through extreme legislation that ignores the will of voters. For example, recent polling suggests at least 34 states plus D.C. have pro-choice majorities or pluralities. Many will ban abortion anyway.

It’s not just abortion. Again and again, unaccountable state governments are showing themselves incapable of decent governance.

In a case that’s now the subject of a federal bribery investigation, corrupt Ohio lawmakers took money taxpayers were investing in renewable energy and used it to bail out coal and nuclear plants — even one in Indiana.

Meanwhile, Florida is ripping up K-12 math books — yes, math books — that allegedly teach “critical race theory.” Unhinged Tennessee lawmakers are calling for literal book burnings. And one-party states nationwide are making it harder to vote.

Frankly, things aren’t much better at the federal level — and Alito should know.

Five of the six conservative seats on the Supreme Court, including Alito’s, were filled by Republican presidents who initially lost the popular vote — and confirmed by Republican Senate “majorities” representing a minority of Americans.

The same Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression while lifting bans on money in politics. So much for the power of the people.

The loser here isn’t the big-D Democratic Party. It’s small-d democracy. When politicians can do whatever they want to us, everyone loses.

Decades ago, it took a national civil rights movement and federal legislation to reclaim common sense and decency from extremist state governments. Today, it’s also going to take reforming the Supreme Court. 

(Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and editor of OtherWords.org.)

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