Justice Jackson, congrats or condolences?
As I always imagined it, the ascension of the first black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court would signal an era of progress, a time of triumph for those Americans who believe in the beloved community of which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke. I was well off the mark. This is no era of progress, no trumpet sound for celebration.
Yes, I am thrilled that there is now a black woman of integrity and wisdom and quiet strength on the nation’s highest court. I am delighted that I can say “Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.” I am pleased that she has broken through a 233-year-old glass ceiling.
But Justice Jackson will not be able to break through a wall of rightwing justices determined to plow through precedent, revoke individual rights and replace pluralism with theocracy. We are living in a new post-Reconstruction era, a bleak time in which reactionaries have seized the levers of power to drive the nation backwards.
Since the high court began to endorse a rights revolution in the 1950s, there have been those among us angered by that progress toward a more perfect union. From the John Birch Society to the Tea Party, there have been groups and factions fighting to block equality, to forestall individual freedom, to thwart pluralism. Perhaps William Buckley spoke best for that point of view, which he championed in the magazine he founded, National Review. Introducing the publication, Buckley said that it “stands athwart history, yelling Stop!”
Buckley provided intellectual heft for the conservative movement in the 1950s, when its members were still fighting against the civil rights movement. But they lost, and the movement for black equality ushered in a golden era of momentum toward fulfilling the founding creed. As black Americans began to gain full citizenship, women demanded equality, as did other ethnic minorities. So, too, did gays and lesbians.
I was among those who believed that progress was irreversible. I had not counted on the growing sense of grievance among those who resented pluralism. I had underestimated the anger over racial equality. I had misunderstood the resentment of modernity. Now, we are saddled with a Supreme Court intent on bringing back the 1950s and reversing the wave of rights started by the Warren Court.
The high court’s decision to overturn women’s reproductive rights was stunning even though it was expected. Women had the legal right to terminate a pregnancy for nearly a half century, and polls show that most Americans supported leaving that right in place. The Supreme Court’s ruling majority didn’t care.
The notion that anti-abortionists claim the moral high ground is laughable. While most of them loudly assert their “Christianity,” their behavior has little in common with the philosophy of the New Testament. So-called pro-lifers are the same voters who repeatedly challenged the Affordable Care Act, oppose the expansion of Medicaid and denounce welfare assistance to poor women and their children.
And there is no reason to think the reactionaries will stop with Roe. Justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife Ginni actively encouraged overturning the election of Joe Biden, has made clear that he has only just begun. In his concurring opinion overturning reproductive rights, Thomas wrote that the high court should also reconsider same-sex marriage and the legal right to contraception. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is ready to once again ban same-sex intercourse between consenting adults.
If this sounds like a theocracy, well, it is. The rightwing claque made that clear in another of its recent rulings, which gave Joseph Kennedy, formerly an assistant football coach at a public high school, the right to kneel in prayer on the 50-yard after games. What’s wrong with his prayers, you ask? Well, try to imagine that the coach is Muslim, and players who want to be on the first string feel obligated to join him.
That is not the only recent ruling in which the Supreme Court has trampled on the separation of church and state to privilege conservative Christians over others. The Roberts Court is well on its way to establishing a white Christian nationalist theocracy in place of democracy. And that is the court that Justice Jackson has joined.
I will be praying for her.