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The Supreme Court Is at Stake: Why the Presidential Election Matters

A US Supreme Court for the few or the many? Not voting gives your voice to others to decide.

Part of the Series

It is no secret that the makeup of the US Supreme Court will be a major issue as the fall election campaigns unfold. And yet, many voters will choose not to vote. “It’s too much effort. I forgot to register when I moved. My vote won’t matter.”

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, “Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016.”

I’ve heard every excuse, but whatever the reason, not voting gives power to others to make decisions that do in fact affect most of our lives.

Examples? Here are some cases and issues to watch.

LGBTQ Rights vs. Religious Freedom

Nineteen states have instituted Religious Freedom Restoration Acts that allow individuals to deny service to anyone if serving them would “violate” their religious beliefs. It’s more serious than not wanting to bake a cake for a gay wedding. Two of those states have included corporations as “individuals” who can also deny service. North Carolina and Alabama’s bathroom bills and the refusal of some states to recognize that same-sex marriage allows adoption rights are tangled up with the “religious right to refuse.”

Voting Rights

North Carolina is also restricting voting rights, after the initial Supreme Court decision that invalidated the necessity of preclearance for states with a history of suppressing the voting rights of people of color. The result?

In The New York Times, William Barber II writes: “The law eliminated voting rules that had enabled North Carolina to have the fourth best per capita voter turnout in the country.” That same law was upheld in Federal District Court during the last week in April. This voting rights case and others like it will find their way to the Supreme Court next year.


Texas is in the process of limiting access to family planning clinics. Targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws are proliferating. If the intention were really to protect women’s health, access to legal and safe abortion would be increasing, rather than access to family planning clinics decreasing. According to NARAL, “While some TRAP laws have been found legally unenforceable, many TRAP laws have gone into effect and caused clinic closures in several states, severely limiting access to safe and legal abortion care for millions of women. It is clear: the anti-choice movement’s goal is not to protect women’s health; it is to regulate abortion clinics out of existence.”

Oklahoma’s legislature has just voted to criminalize abortion — as though Roe v. Wade had never been passed. Oklahoma is taking the lead, testing the waters, ready to take its new law to the Supreme Court. The Oklahoma House of Representatives has approved the bill; the Senate approved it once and will vote again soon.

And then the governor has to sign it before it goes into effect in November 2016 — just in time for the general elections. Gov. Mary Fallin has signed other bills limiting a woman’s right to choose, and there is no doubt she will sign this one.

Conservative Efforts to Change the Makeup of the Supreme Court

If a Republican president gets to nominate the justice who will replace Antonin Scalia, the diminishing number of progressive rights will continue to decline.

Meanwhile, the rights of individuals who want to own military-style assault weapons and of individuals who want their religious values to govern everyone will continue to increase.

Yes, all of these really bad laws will probably be issues before the Supreme Court down the road.

Solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment? Immigration and the rights of undocumented people who have been living and working in the US for years? Criminal felony charges for the possession of small amounts of a drug like marijuana, now legal in some states?

Conservatives are ready to put a stop to the spread of progressive values. One more justice will do it.

Conservatives in this country have been on a mission to change the makeup of the Supreme Court since the Warren court overturned segregation laws, approved civil rights and voting rights, and upheld the rights of the accused to due process. And then the Burger court found a right to privacy in the US Constitution that allowed women access to birth control and abortion.

Ronald Reagan came into office vowing to only nominate justices to the Supreme Court who were opposed to abortion. He must have been surprised when his first Supreme Court justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, chose to uphold Roe v. Wade in her important decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

But Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Scalia did not disappoint. And in 2000 the justices of the Supreme Court who had been selected by Republican presidents interfered in the election recount in Florida and declared George W. Bush president instead of Al Gore, who had won the popular vote.

Gore was only the most obvious victim of this conservative court makeover. One by one we have seen affirmative action, voting rights, separation of church and state, and reproductive rights denied, overturned and limited.

Voters who don’t vote have elected (by default) extremely conservative state legislatures, governors and attorneys general. And this is also true at local levels.

Conservatives are ready to put a stop to the spread of progressive values. One more justice will do it. Two more will cement the conservative majority on the court for years and years.

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