Note the date for the shame of posterity: On June 26, 2018, by upholding Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban, the Supreme Court demonstrated that the entire federal government has finally come under his complete control, right down to its hateful, racist bones.
Trump has controlled the executive branch since a small inaugural mob lapped up his gibberish about “American carnage” in January of 2016, and after a few false starts, the Republican-dominated Congress passed the tax cut and became Trump’s willing accomplice.
That left the judiciary and its most recent arrival, Neil Gorsuch, and his steamer trunk full of Borkian originalist slop, to seal the deal. Gorsuch and the conservative majority of the Supreme Court did just that in publicly bending the knee to Trump by upholding his discriminatory “Muslim ban” by a vote of 5-4. As a result of this ruling, people from seven countries (five of which have Muslim majorities) will be barred from coming to the United States. Many of these people are trying to flee war and dislocation, much of which was caused by the United States to begin with.
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In a bit of bitter irony, this decision was handed down on the third anniversary of a Supreme Court ruling far superior in its fundamental morality. On June 26, 2015, to the dismay of homophobes everywhere, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in the case of Obergefell vs. Hodges. On that day, there was dancing in the streets from sea to shining sea. Today, there is only a deepening gloom as the long shadow of Trump’s expanding authoritarian reach grows deeper and darker by the day.
Historians may someday come to marvel at the ease with which Donald Trump was able to bring the entire Republican Party under his thrall in the short course of those three years. At the early outset of the 2016 presidential campaign, the entire party and its 16 other candidates were united in their disdain for this farce of a caricature. At first they laughed at him, but as those other candidates fell one by one, they came to fear him, and were desperate to stop him.
In February of 2016, The New York Times reported, “At least two campaigns have drafted plans to overtake Mr. Trump in a brokered convention, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has laid out a plan that would have lawmakers break with Mr. Trump explicitly in a general election.”
The re-election campaign of Mitch McConnell, in full swing as the 2018 midterms approach, circulated a photo of McConnell shaking hands with Neil Gorsuch just after the travel ban decision was handed down. This was an unambiguous signal sent to Trump and his supporters, as it was McConnell who quashed Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, leaving the seat open for Trump to eventually nominate Gorsuch and secure a conservative majority on the court.
McConnell is now actively campaigning for re-election today on Trump’s back, and Trump just loves a good trolling. That, as they say, is that.
Justice Sotomayor, in her dissent, explained the immoral nature of the majority’s decision with blunt precision:
The United States of America is a Nation built upon the promise of religious liberty…. The Court’s decision today fails to safeguard that fundamental principle. It leaves undisturbed a policy first advertised openly and unequivocally as a ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States’ because the policy now masquerades behind a façade of national-security concerns. Based on the evidence in the record, a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus.
Throughout Barack Obama’s presidency, Trump made it his business to undermine the country’s first Black president by alleging he was a Muslim foreigner, possibly even a terrorist himself. Trump got into politics for real in 2011 after Obama ridiculed him for his Islamophobic conspiracy theories at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. This vein of hate runs deep, and now it is the law of the land.
Attached to Sotomayor’s dissent is a torrent of citations detailing the many, many times — during his presidential campaign and well after — when Trump made it abundantly clear that the people at the focus of this “travel ban” are being singled out for one reason alone: They are Muslim. Trump’s brazen animus toward Islam and its adherents was in plain view long before he announced his candidacy.
Trump’s worldview is best exemplified by the company he keeps. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has a history of racial, cultural and religious hatred as long as his name. John Bolton was chair of the Gatestone Institute before Trump elevated him to the post of national security adviser; Gatestone argues that Islam is about to take over all of the United States and Great Britain, with no coherent evidence to offer (because there is none). Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of State by way of the CIA, was happy to blame all US Muslims for the Boston Marathon bombing.
And then there is Stephen Miller, author of the vicious debacle that was Trump’s child separation policy at the border. Miller’s hate and racism is so vivid that it freaks out other White House staffers, who one would think would be inured to such things by now. “Stephen actually enjoys seeing those pictures at the border,” an anonymous White House adviser said. “He’s Waffen-SS.”
When they call you a Nazi in the White House, you’re really doing it wrong. Or right, depending on whom you’re trying to please.
The court’s decision on Trump’s “travel ban” was not alone in its shame this week. On Monday, the Republican Party’s long-running pre-Trumpian siege against the Voting Rights Act claimed another conquest when the court ruled in favor of the GOP in Abbott v. Perez.
After a protracted legal battle that began when Republicans in Texas redrew four voting district maps with the clear intention of diminishing the electoral voices of Latino voters, the Supreme Court on Monday sided with the GOP in all but one of those racially gerrymandered districts.
According to Slate, “Gorsuch has joined Justice Clarence Thomas’ crusade to hobble the law even further by holding that it does not prohibit racial gerrymandering. Were the court to adopt Gorsuch’s interpretation, the VRA could never again be used to stop racist mapmakers from diluting minority votes.”
Writing in concurrence with the majority’s decision, Gorsuch and Thomas stated, “I adhere to my view that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 does not apply to redistricting. Thus, Section 2 cannot provide a basis for invalidating any district, and it cannot provide a justification for the racial gerrymander in House District 90.” Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to the Department of Justice, “prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups identified in Section 4(f)(2) of the Act.”
In an attempt to explain away the demonstrable racism deployed in the original drawing of the district maps, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices repeat the word “impermissible” again and again in the majority opinion on Abbott. There was not an unacceptable amount of racism involved, they seemed to argue, and whatever racism was involved is now permissible after Justice Roberts did his brutal work on the Voting Rights Act in 2015.
It is Donald Trump’s court now. No decision is too vacuous or vicious if it conforms to the squalid requirements of the executive branch, which has in its lap a purring, recumbent legislative branch. A year ago, I warned amid the chaos of a dysfunctional congress that, sooner or later, these people were going to find the car keys. They found them, and we are now on a road to some very dangerous places.
An optimist might claim this to be Trump’s high-water mark, the place where his flood tide did its final damage before sliding back in defeat. I am not an optimist, not any more, and I fear those same historians who were awed at Trump’s takeover will see June 26, 2018, as the moment when the worst was only just beginning.