Jul 18, 2005
Sandra Day O'Connor submitted her resignation from the Supreme Court, and William H. Rehnquist is severely ill. The political class in Washington, D.C. is atwitter over the prospect of President Bush appointing a new justice.
The Supreme Court's job, theoretically, is to interpret and enforce the Constitution. But are the political chatterers discussing this?
Well, no. They are debating how George Bush might use it to throw a bone to his voting base. Bush's election strength has largely rested on that small part of the voting population which fervently holds reactionary religious views on issues such as abortion, science, and gay rights. Will Bush reward his voting base? And if he doesn't, will some of that base be disappointed enough to desert him and his party? Clearly these are the dominant considerations – which puts to lie all the high-sounding sentiments about the Constitution!
The myth of the Supreme Court is that it interprets the laws of the land based on the Constitution, and that it protects individual rights granted in that Constitution. No, it doesn't. The Court provides nothing but a fig leaf for political agendas and the political maneuverings of the bourgeoisie, the capitalist class.
Only in the sense that the Constitution was itself a bourgeois document does the Court "uphold" it today.
If the Court did its mythical job and upheld individual rights, it would not have taken until 1865 to formally end slavery, nor until 1870 to guarantee ex-slaves the right to vote. It would not have taken until 1954 to formally strike down segregated education. It would not have taken until l973 to formally grant women some right to control what happens to their own bodies.
All through those years, the legal leanings of the justices were irrelevant, as was the political party of the appointing Presidents. Those rights were formally granted only in the face of movements which were pushing to take their rights – whether legally granted or not!
If anyone believes you can tell how a justice will vote by who appointed them, look at Roe v. Wade, which allowed some abortion rights. The court voted seven to two in favor. One of the justices voting against had been appointed by the Democratic President, John F. Kennedy. Six of the seven voting in favor had been appointed by Republican presidents!
It's the social situation, the presence or absence of popular pressure, that drives Supreme Court decisions. In the face of a popular movement, the court makes decisions calculated to reduce popular pressure and thus stabilize the bourgeoisie's social order. In the absence of such movements, the Court proceeds to take away whatever gains might have been previously pried from the bourgeoisie's grasp.
No Supreme Court justice will fight for us. We must fight for ourselves.