Supreme Court in Crisis: A Broken System Threatening American Democracy

  On November 13, 2023, after nine justices signed it, the U.S. Supreme Court released a document for the first time, clarifying the ethics standards that justices need to abide by. The move was in response to a series of incidents involving Supreme Court justices involved in conflicts of interest. Among them, the most criticized by the public is conservative Justice Thomas. Not only was he exposed by the media to many scandals such as befriending wealthy people, accepting gifts, and concealing personal financial information, but his wife was also deeply involved in the 2020 election of Trump supporters. The riots that stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2016.
  Critics pointed out that many clauses in this document are vaguely worded, and it does not require the justices to strictly abide by it, nor does it establish a mechanism for investigating violations and corresponding punishment provisions, and does not have the de facto binding force.
  In recent years, the reputation of the U.S. Supreme Court in American society has fallen again and again. Polls show that in 2022, the American public’s support for the Supreme Court is only 25%, a record low. The reason is not only the personal conduct issues of the justices mentioned above, but more importantly, the U.S. Supreme Court has made a number of important judgments in recent years that have gone against mainstream American public opinion and overturned recognized precedents. For example, in June 2022, it Within a week, they successively ended the abortion rights that had been upheld since 1973 at the federal level, overturned the 1913 New York State law that “people must obtain permission before carrying handguns in public places”, and abolished U.S. environmental protection laws. The agency has broad authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. This type of judgment is not a simple superposition of cases, but deliberately promotes a conservative political program through judicial means.
  There are 9 justices on the Supreme Court of the United States. For decades, the conservative justices and liberal justices maintained a 5:4 ratio, with one conservative justice being a “swing vote”, which maintained the political balance of the Supreme Court. However, during Trump’s term as president, three vacancies appeared on the Supreme Court due to the retirement or death of sitting justices. Trump was therefore able to appoint three conservative justices, increasing the ratio of conservative to liberal justices. It became 6:3, making the Supreme Court completely dominated by conservatives.
  In the two-party political structure of the United States, the divide between conservative and liberal justices on the Supreme Court corresponds to the divide between Republican presidents and Democratic presidents. In the past 8 presidential elections in the United States, the Democrats won the popular vote in 7 times, but the Republican presidents appointed 6 of the 9 justices on the current Supreme Court, 5 of which were composed of two people who lost the popular vote but won the electors. Bush appointed two and Trump appointed three. In other words, even though the Democratic Party has received the support of a majority of ordinary voters in the vast majority of presidential elections in the past 30 years, the Republican Party has maintained long-term control of the Supreme Court and achieved an absolute majority under Trump. It is against this background that the U.S. Supreme Court has gone its own way in recent years and made many important decisions that went against the mainstream public opinion in the United States.
  In the American political system with separation of powers, the Supreme Court can intervene in the decisions of the legislative and executive branches through judicial review, that is, to determine whether a law or executive order is unconstitutional. This is called For “judicial supremacy”.
  In 1962, the famous legal scholar Alexander Bickel raised the “anti-majority problem” in his monograph “The Least Dangerous Branch” and sharply questioned the The legitimacy of “judicial supremacy”. In Bickel’s view, judicial review allows unelected justices to veto laws enacted by the elected legislature, which violates the basic spirit of the democratic system. In fact, apart from the United States, no country in the world has given so much power to so few people at the institutional level.
  For a long time, the “countermajority problem” was only a topic confined to academia, but now the situation has completely changed. In addition to weakening abortion rights, overturning gun restrictions, and limiting the power of environmental protection agencies, conservative justices have used their supermajorities on the Supreme Court to outlaw affirmative action in higher education and erode the entire legal system that ensures the separation of church and state. Suppression of the voting rights of vulnerable groups. All of these are contrary to the majority of public opinion in American society. Legal scholar Michael Waldman pointed out in his book “Supermajority: How the Supreme Court Divided America” ​​that today’s U.S. Supreme Court has become a major threat to the American democratic system.
  The reason why the conservative justices of the Supreme Court frequently make important judgments that go against mainstream public opinion is because of the so-called “originalism”, which is a path of constitutional interpretation that advocates that it should be based on The Constitution is interpreted based on the intent of the Framers and the original meaning of the Constitution’s text. Waldman believes that this approach is absurd, and we cannot pretend that we can point out the direction for the development of society in the 21st century by consulting the framers of the late 18th century. When the U.S. Constitution was written, the framers all wore pink wigs, women did not have the right to vote, and most black people were slaves. It was a very different era from now, with very different values, and very different vision for the country’s future.
  What’s even more ridiculous is that the “original intention” advertised by the conservative justice group is often not the true original meaning, but their interpretation. Take the Supreme Court as an example, which overturned a 1913 New York State law that required people to obtain a permit before carrying handguns in public. The legal basis for this judgment is that when reviewing gun laws, public safety cannot be considered, but only so-called history and tradition, which refers to the laws and rules enacted or formed before the founding of the United States or in the early days of the founding of the United States.
  The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was enacted in 1791. It reads: “A well disciplined Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State; the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be violated.” This provision is regarded by today’s originalists as the legal basis for an individual’s right to own a gun, and New York State’s nearly century-old law on carrying weapons was ruled unconstitutional.
  Waldman argued that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was all about public safety when it was enacted. That era and contemporary America were completely different in many ways. At that time every adult man was required to serve in the militia for life, and by law they were required to own a gun and carry it from home for military training or combat. At that time, the United States had no police or army, and the militia was the country’s public security force.
  Before 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court had never declared that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to own a gun. On the contrary, in United States v. Miller in 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of laws regulating firearms that were not related to militia training but were considered offensive weapons. This decision was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2008. In the District of Columbia v. Heller case that year, the Supreme Court ruled 5:4, with 5 conservative justices supporting and 4 liberal justices dissenting, ruling that citizens only need to For legitimate purposes, one enjoys the “right to keep and bear arms” stipulated in the Second Amendment. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. Chicago that the above interpretation of the Second Amendment applies to states.
  Justice Scalia, who died in 2016, served on the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years (1986 to 2016). He adhered to originalism and was recognized as a conservative in the American legal profession. Send flag bearers. In his decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, he claimed that according to the lexicon of the time, in the original text of the Second Amendment to “bear arms,” ​​”bear” meant “to carry,” so The weapon mentioned here must be something that an individual can carry, that is, something similar to a pistol, so the original meaning of this article is about the individual’s right to own a gun.
  In fact, after the 2008 Supreme Court decision upholding an individual’s right to own a gun on the basis of the Second Amendment, some scholars created a database containing all documents from the early days of the United States. A literature search showed that “bearing arms” in the context of that time meant serving in the military, which is not the same thing as Scalia’s explanation. Gun control laws have existed in the United States since the founding of the country. This is a true tradition.
  However, the above-mentioned two decisions issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 and 2010 supporting individuals’ right to own guns are nothing compared to the 2022 decision overturning New York State’s century-old gun control law. See the great witch. The latter means that not only New York State, but also laws prohibiting the carrying of guns in public places such as airports, hospitals, and schools in the United States will face judicial challenges. This judgment was made against the background of frequent mass shootings in the United States and rising public calls for gun control. The person who wrote the judgment was the aforementioned Justice Thomas, who broke many scandals.
  Waldman believes that the key to preventing the Supreme Court from threatening American democracy is to break the myth of the principle of “judicial supremacy.”
  In the dominant narrative of American legal history, the Supreme Court is often portrayed as the defender of individual privacy, equal opportunity, and racial inclusion, whose decisions can restrain Congress, the president, federal agencies, and Violations of people’s rights by state and local legislative, executive, and judicial branches. However, the historical truth is not like this. In the 1857 “Dred Scott v. Sandford” decision, the Supreme Court declared that states had the right to decide for themselves whether slavery was legal in their own states, regardless of the decision of Congress. The move became the trigger for the Civil War. In 1896, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of racial segregation in its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, allowing segregation laws in southern states to continue for more than half a century.

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