The Supreme Court is trying to turn the clock back 200 years

History can look back to the time we live in and call it the Great Regression. It is a time when we are undoing decades- and sometimes centuries-old advances on one issue at a time.

If the term regression feels too academic, we might as well call it the great leap backwards. If it continues at its current pace, it could become known as the American Middle Ages…or worse, to borrow from another historical saga, the decline and fall of the United States.

We have rarely experienced anything like this in the history of our country. An example might be that after the Civil War, Reconstruction saw efforts in the former Confederate states to restore the old order wherever possible and to crush newly freed blacks in the South once more.

More recently, thanks to a concerted campaign by America’s right wing, sometimes with the help of centrists from both US political parties, we have seen a long list of key milestones in American social progress in the post-WWII era undone and has been undone or blunted.

The Supreme Court, now one of the most active and pernicious agents of this era of anti-progress, demonstrated this again on Friday, recognizing for the first time in history a people’s right, the right for a woman to have her own body check. In doing so, they imposed a new burden from which American women, by and large, have been freed for half a century—that of forced childbirth.

They even framed this tremendous step backwards in language that made it clear that all their clocks stopped in the 17th, 18th or early 19th centuries, that they used their twisted memories of that time as the only legitimate parameters for setting ours social standards considered. For example, Friday’s majority decision cited abortion cases as far back as the 13th century and relied on legal sources including Justice Sir Matthew Hale, a 17-year-old woman could never be raped by her husband because she gave him control of her body.

For many of us, Roe and the recognition of a woman’s right to vote was an important milestone in our lives, a clear sign that activism plus education plus conscience and decency could move America forward and make it a better place. For several generations, Roe was a symbol that our system worked. It was also a transformative decision, empowering women and playing a significant role in increasing female labor force participation from 43 percent in 1970 to nearly 57 percent today.

So they tried to tear it down. It was a shift in America’s power structure from the original white, Christian-dominated patriarchy to which much of America’s Republican Party has long yearned to return. But make no mistake, right-wing regression has been underway for years, even as they laid the groundwork for Roe’s dismantling in our courts and legislatures.

For example, the greatest advance of the 1960s was the Voting Rights Act and our advances toward greater racial justice. This was also targeted for the pushback. In its 2013 Shelby County decision, the Roberts Court perversely ruled that we had outgrown the need for such protections, even as that court’s sponsors worked to restrict and eliminate voting rights, particularly for people of color, across America. As a result, new restrictions in the Red States have made it significantly more difficult for many, particularly in communities of color, to cast their vote.

Advances toward social justice and equal opportunities have suffered other blows. Since the 1980s, the “leave it to the markets” policy of Reaganomics (and the GOP and The Center) has caused inequality to skyrocket in the US. Social mobility has declined. The rich are richer. The rich have benefited from laws that reduce their share of the tax burden (capital gains taxes) and empower their corporations to operate without regulation.

Our society’s upper echelons also gained political clout when the court in Citizens United ruled that “make money talk,” giving those with more money more leverage in choosing our leaders. They have used this power to increase the influence of the minority in America over the majority – and of course that too is reversing centuries of progress towards inclusion and fairness in American life.

The right has also pushed back on the full inclusion and protection of gay and transgender people in our communities. In agreeing with the majority opinion, which overturned Roe, Judge Clarence Thomas indicated that the next item on the agenda could be to repeal the right granted in the court’s Obergefell decision that allowed gay Americans to marry. Thomas even tried to reconsider whether American women should have access to contraceptives, another way to reduce them and leave them at the mercy of a patriarchy that now says in a number of states that a woman who is raped is in control she must give body to her rapist while giving birth to his child.

It’s worth noting that one decision that might be targeted by the current backward thinking of the court’s far-right majority was the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia decision, which allowed interracial marriages, which Thomas’ own marriage to his notoriously riotous wife Ginni enabled.

By the way, do not call this band of ruthless revisionists at court conservatives. Nothing about what they do is “conservative,” nor should they be called “strict constructionalists” or “originalists,” since their decisions disregard legal precedent and the spirit of the Constitution, and often fabricate citations for their decisions from scratch. A recent example, last week’s decision to lift New York City’s concealed handgun carrying restrictions, provides a prime example of this. In it, Thomas cited the Second and Fourteenth Amendments, which guaranteed Americans the right to carry a handgun. Go and read them. They don’t do anything of the sort. Handguns are not mentioned in the constitution. But then again, as many have pointed out, women aren’t either. And it seems unlikely that Thomas would want to return to the original view of the constitution, which allowed his kin to be kept as slaves.

The gun policy of the hard right is also a major step backwards, taking us back to the murderous freedom of the American West. It should also be noted that they deeply disagree with the opinion of Americans — as do many of the views of this Supreme Court majority (like their GOP sponsors). A large majority of Americans support sane gun controls, a woman’s right to an abortion, and even decisions like Roe himself.

Also last week, as I wrote in a recent column in The Daily Beast, the court took another major step backwards by stamping out the separation of church and state, an idea that dates back to the 18th century and is literally enshrined in the Constitution has been recorded. Another similar backlash is likely in the coming week, as the court is expected to strip the federal government of its ability to enact environmental regulations, which have been an essential tool in fighting climate change and preserving our country’s natural riches.

These are enormous regressions for American society. No doubt there are many others not mentioned in this column. And the scariest part is that they are proof that the right-wing campaign to wipe out social progress over the past four decades has been frighteningly successful so far. If they are not stopped in the elections, one day they may turn the clock back so far that we and the world will once again wonder if America is a viable idea. The Supreme Court is trying to turn the clock back 200 years


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