The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

What Is the Supreme Court?

Oct 15, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court, despite accusations of sexual assault.

This court is portrayed as standing above politics, representing neutral justice. But in reality, the Supreme Court has always been a tool of the ruling class, designed to make sure no law can be passed that challenges their basic interests.

First, it defended slavery: In 1857, the Supreme Court declared that black people had “no rights which the white man is bound to respect.”

Then, the Supreme Court defended segregation with a legal lie covering Jim Crow: it ruled that segregation was legal, as long as facilities were “separate but equal.” But “separate” schools, trains, and neighborhoods were never equal, as everyone on the Supreme Court knew.

And the Supreme Court legalized the use of police, the army, and the National Guard to break strikes, and to imprison workers’ leaders. It even ruled in 1904 that any restriction of working hours was unconstitutional!

The Supreme Court has only ruled in favor of the rights of ordinary people when the ruling class was faced with a serious social movement that threatened its power. The Supreme Court, which had up to that point always ruled that industrial unions were in one way or another illegal, was forced to reverse itself in the 1930s in the face of a gigantic mobilization of the working class that had already in fact created its own unions.

It ruled that segregation of schools was illegal in 1954, in the face of the early Civil Rights movement – though this did not desegregate the schools, since the southern states refused to obey until the black movement forced them to. In 1973, after more than 20 years of social movements in which women had played a big role, the Supreme Court legalized abortion.

Since the end of the movements, the Supreme Court has helped roll back the gains those movements won.

It legalized expanded police surveillance, long prison sentences for minor crimes, the bail bond system, and obviously racist policing practices, contributing to the mass incarceration of black men in particular. It has also allowed one restriction after another on abortion rights. And in the last few years, the Supreme Court has restricted workers’ right to form unions.

Some Democrats and political commentators say that the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation has discredited the Supreme Court. But from the perspective of the working class, the Supreme Court has already completely discredited itself by its entire history.