Right-wing leaders have spent the past month denouncing as illegitimate and tyrannical the Supreme Court’s June 26 decision that declared state laws banning same-sex couples from getting married to be unconstitutional. In addition to waging a campaign of resistance to the ruling, right-wing activists are looking toward the 2016 presidential elections as a chance to pack the Court with far-right justices who will overturn the decision.
Journalist Paul Waldman argued recently that 2016 will be a Supreme Court election because right-wing voters will be motivated by anger over their losses on marriage and health care, even though “the Roberts Court has given conservatives an enormous amount to be happy about” – gutting the Voting Rights Act and giving corporations and zillionaires the right to spend as much as they want to influence elections, and much more.
Waldman says even though the Court’s conservative are likely to do more damage to workers’ rights and women’s access to health care during the next term, “All that is unlikely to banish the memory of the last couple of weeks from Republicans' minds, and you can bet that the GOP presidential candidates are going to have to promise primary voters that they'll deliver more Supreme Court justices like Alito, and fewer like Anthony Kennedy or even Roberts.”
Indeed, presidential candidates have been making such promises.
- Jeb Bush told right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt that he would focus on “people to be Supreme Court justices who have a proven record of judicial restraint.”
- Donald Trump denounced Jeb Bush for having supported the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts, even though Roberts has presided over the most corporate-friendly Court in modern history and vigorously dissented from the marriage equality ruling. A Trump advisory said Supreme Court appointments were among the “many failings of both the Bush presidencies.”
- Ted Cruz has vowed to make the Supreme Court “front and center” in his presidential campaign; he called the Court’s rulings on marriage equality and the Affordable Care Act among the “darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history” and is calling for constitutional amendments to limit Court terms and require justices to face retention elections.
- Marco Rubio: “The next president of the United States must nominate Supreme Court justices that believe in the original intent of the Constitution and apply that. We need more Scalias and less Sotomayors.”
- Rick Perry: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he is disappointed with the ruling and pledged to "appoint strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written."
- Chris Christie: “If the Christie-type justices had been on that court in the majority, we would have won those cases in the Supreme Court rather than lost them.”
- Bobby Jindal: "So it's not enough just to get a Republican in the White House, we need to have a Republican that will appoint justices that actually read the Constitution. [Justice Antonin] Scalia said it best on the Obamacare case. He said 'look, this means that words no longer have meanings. This means we've got a court where they don't read the Constitution, they don't read a dictionary.'…"It's time to get some justices that will stop being politicians, stop obeying the public opinion polls, and actually read and obey the Constitution."
- Mike Huckabee, who has made an attack on “judicial supremacy” the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, said. “I guarantee you in a Huckabee administration there will be very different kind of people appointed to the court.”
- Scott Walker denounced the Court’s decision on marriage, saying “The states are the proper place for these decisions to be made, and as we have seen repeatedly over the last few days, we will need a conservative president who will appoint men and women to the Court who will faithfully interpret the Constitution and laws of our land without injecting their own political agendas.
Candidates are responding to the demands of right-wing leaders and organizations, who see the 2016 election as a chance to cement right-wing control of the Supreme Court for a generation.
The National Organization for Marriage says that the definition of marriage should be a “pivotal issue” in 2016, and called on Americans to elect a president who will appoint "new justices to the Supreme Court who will have the opportunity to reverse" the decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.
At a Heritage Foundation panel discussion on the Court’s marriage ruling, Carrie Severino of the right-wing Judicial Crisis Network, declared, “The next president will likely have one, two, maybe three Supreme Court nominations,” adding that the Court’s Obergefell ruling “is not the final decision in this series….”
She also looked ahead to the elections and the “generational impact” of future Supreme Court justices:
“I think it’s important to have judges on the court that are going to be faithfully interpreting the Constitution, and therefore to make sure that there’s a president in place, and senators in place, who recognize the overarching importance of this issue….
Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation said that Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell cited “new insights” into marriage and that a Court with more right-wing justices could use their own “new insights” to overturn the marriage equality decision. He urged the anti-marriage-equality movement to conduct new research into gay parenting (citing the widely discredited Mark Regnerus study on “family structures) to give future right-wing justices some justification for overturning the recent ruling.
“I could see a situation in which the Court has a different composition, as Carrie mentioned, chances are the next president will have up to four seats to fill. At Inauguration Day three of the justices will be in their 80s and one of them will be 78. So there’s a chance that there will be a different composition of the Court. And if there are new insights into marriage, and new insights into the rights of children, that could be a possibility for the Court to reconsider.
Also weighing in, the notorious Frank Schubert, architect of the anti-equality movement’s anti-gay messaging strategy:
The court’s decision will also powerfully inject marriage into the 2016 presidential contest. The most direct course to reverse this ruling lies in the next president appointing new justices to the Supreme Court. Social conservatives will do everything possible to ensure that the Republican nominee is a strong pro-marriage champion, making this a litmus test throughout the GOP primaries and caucuses.
Paul Waldman says that, believe it or not, John F. Kennedy was the last Democratic president who had the chance to nominate a replacement for a conservative Supreme Court justice. Given the age of the justices, he says, “it would be strange if at least one or two didn't retire in the next president's term (the last three presidents each appointed two justices).”
If the next president gets that chance, no matter which party he or she comes from, it will profoundly affect the court's direction. If a Republican could appoint someone to replace Ginsburg or Breyer, it would mean a 6-3 conservative majority, which means that Kennedy would no longer be the swing vote and there would be a margin for error in every case. If a Democratic president were to replace Scalia or Kennedy, then the court would go from 5-4 in favor of the conservatives to 5-4 in favor of the liberals.
Those two outcomes would produce two radically different Supreme Courts, with implications that would shape American life for decades.
If progressives want to see a Court that vigorously protects the right to vote, that does not regularly bend the law in order to give more power to the already-powerful, that recognizes that the “equal” in “Equal Protection” means what it says, that does not regard the separation of church and state as some jurisprudential mistake, and that understands that Americans have a right to limit the corrosive influence of money on our elections, then they should make the Court an overriding issue for progressives in the 2016 elections. Those who see a very different role for the Supreme Court, and wish for a very different America, have already made the connection.