Friday, February 12, 2016

Lucy on the Court

Why am I surprised and hurt each time the conservative Supreme Court majority issues an absurd ruling like their recent injunction against the Clean Power Plan?

Why am I always Charlie Brown to their Lucy-with-a-football routine?

It's not as if I don't already know they’re willing to ignore precedent and even clearly written, recently adopted laws like the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County v. Holder), where they declared racism had ended.

Now they're saying the Clean Air Act doesn't say what it says and has been found to say in past cases. They’re leaping over multiple stages of the usual appeals process to do it, too. (Here’s a short summary of the situation from the Washington Post.) It’s as if these five justices specifically want to cause the Paris COP21 accord to fall apart.

I just figured out why their actions still surprise me, though. Growing up in the 1960s and '70s under the Warren and Burger courts, with Thurgood Marshall, William Brennan, and John Paul Stevens as major influences, I came to believe the Court was an inherently positive institution, one committed to clarifying rights. They didn’t always do what I would have wanted, but much more often than not, they did.

After reading more history of the Court, taking a class on its history, and living through the post-Rehnquist years, I now know that 25-year period was a historical anomaly. But it continues to shape my faith in the institution.

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