The right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly weakened voting rights protections in the 10 years since it gutted a key section of the Voting Rights Act in the notorious Shelby County v. Holder opinion. That opinion opened the door to state legislators—many in the old Confederate states—who were just waiting to pass new restrictive voting laws, a trend that exploded after Black voter turnout helped defeat former president Donald Trump’s reelection bid. But things could get a whole lot worse.
‘Massive Resistance’ Returns to Alabama
The Alabama legislature is engaging in “open defiance” of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring the state to redraw its congressional map, which the court ruled illegally diluted the political influence of Black voters in the state. Alabama Republicans’ latest redistricting scheme is meant to preserve Republican power and eliminate the possibility of a second Democratic congressional seat. Alabama’s Gov. Kay Ivey has backed the legislators, ensuring her place in the state’s ugly history of “massive resistance” to civil and voting rights.
How did we get here?
The same right-wing dark money groups that poured hundreds of millions of dollars into creating the current right-wing majority on the Supreme Court are also behind a push to “overturn the remaining key protections established by the 1965 Voting Rights Act,” according to the Alabama Political Reporter. They’re hoping to convince Justice Brett Kavanaugh, one of the Trump justices whose elevation was nurtured by the same right-wing network, to give them the vote they need. Kavanaugh voted against Alabama’s redistricting just weeks ago, but in doing so he also dropped hints that he might be open to a return to the “states’ rights” era.
The Right-Wing Takeover of the Courts: Strategic, Long-Term, Massively Funded
The right-wing movement to take domination of the federal courts was a long-term massively funded project. In 2002, People For the American Way published “The Federalist Society: From Obscurity to Power,” which noted that the group’s growth was “aided by millions of dollars from the likes of the John M. Olin, Lynde and Harry Bradley, Sarah Scaife, and Charles G. Koch foundations—some of the largest funders of right-wing groups in the country.”
Twenty years later, the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo, the architect of the right-wing court strategy who had funneled hundreds of millions into court takeover work, was given $1.6 billion to further advance right-wing policy priorities through a broader activist network. Leo’s Marble Freedom Trust quickly gave $153 million to the Rule of Law Trust to push the appointment of conservative judges, according to The Guardian.
Similar to the way the religious-right legal group Alliance Defending Freedom wrote the Mississippi abortion-ban law designed specifically to get a Trumpified Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, and then represented the state in the case the court used to do just that, the same powerful forces that helped create right-wing dominance in the judiciary are using that dominance to undermine Americans rights and legal protections on a wide range of issues, including access to abortion, environmental protection, educational opportunity, legal equality for LGBTQ Americans, workers’ right to organize, and public health.
Where do we go from here? What can you do?
As PFAW and RWW have repeatedly documented, the goal of the right-wing courts movement is to reverse a century’s worth of legal precedents and social progress, repeal the New Deal, and return the U.S. to a states’ rights constitutional order that undermines the federal government’s ability to protect Americans’ rights, health, safety, and communities.
It is essential to resist voter suppression and mobilize Americans who do not share the far right’s vision for a country that is less free and less fair. It is essential that President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats continue to prioritize the nomination and confirmation of excellent fair-minded judges. You can take part in People For the American Way’s fight for fair courts by signing up here.
In 2024 it will be essential to stop far-right Republicans from returning to the White House and controlling the Senate, which would allow them to complete the takeover of our courts, with disastrous consequences for democracy and for our rights.