The Supreme Court could send the U.S. back to the 1950s

The Supreme Court could send the U.S. back to the 1950s

Ronald Brownstein writes:

The struggle over the sweeping red-state drive to roll back civil rights and liberties has primarily moved to the courts.

Since 2021, Republican-controlled states have passed a swarm of laws to restrict voting rights, increase penalties for public protest, impose new restrictions on transgender youth, ban books, and limit what teachers, college professors, and employers can say about race, gender, and sexual orientation. Some states are even exploring options to potentially prosecute people who help women travel out of state to obtain an abortion.

In the early legal skirmishing over this agenda, opponents including the federal Justice Department have won a surprising number of decisions, mostly in federal courts, blocking states from implementing the new laws.

But eventually most of these issues are likely to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the court’s six-member Republican-appointed majority has generally ruled in ways that favor the conservative social-policy priorities reflected in the red-state actions. That inclination was most dramatically demonstrated in last year’s Dobbs decision, when the Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion.

In the coming years, the Court will face a series of decisions on the new red-state agenda that may determine whether the U.S. maintains a strong baseline of civil rights available in all states or reverts back toward a pre-1960s world where people’s rights varied much more depending on where they lived.

“The idea of the Bill of Rights was that we would have a floor of civil rights and civil liberties that the states could not go below,” David Cole, the national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told me. “But for that floor to be meaningful, it has to be enforced by the Supreme Court ultimately.

“In our history, the courts have sometimes done that courageously and bravely, and other times they have fallen down on the job,” Cole continued. “And when they have fallen down on the job, you get a two-tier system in this country.” [Continue reading…]

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