Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Ordinarily staid and silent Supreme Court justices have become whirling dervishes of late, spinning madly to rebut the idea that Americans are beginning to regard the court as a dangerous cabal of partisan hacks.
They need not fret and wring their hands. No one is beginning to think that.
Many of us have thought that for a long time.
Supremes are often Shakespeare fans, so of course they are familiar with the phrase “doth protest too much, methinks.”
The once august court’s approval ratings on fairness were already falling two decades ago. The bloom came off the robe in 2000, when the court threw the game on Bush v. Gore, voting 5-4 to stop the Florida recount and anoint a Republican president.
If we conjure an alternative-history look at America, consider all the things that the Supreme Court brought down on our heads by preemptively purloining that victory for George W. Bush: two interminable and inexplicable wars, costing so many lives and so many trillions; a descent into torture; the villainous Dick Cheney.
As some on Twitter noted, our 20 years of quicksand in Afghanistan was capped Friday with this headline: “Son of Afghanistan’s Former Defense Minister Buys $20.9 Million Beverly Hills Mansion.”
Al Gore, mocked as “Ozone Man” by Bush senior, certainly would have tried to head off the biblical floods and fires engulfing our country.
The right-wing justices may as well embrace their reputation for hackery. Because in this blockbuster year, when the conservative court begins debating abortion and the Second Amendment, one thing is certain: They are going to make rulings that will drive people crazy, rulings that will be out of sync with what most Americans believe.
So please, conservative cabal, don’t pretend you’re not doing this out of ideology.
And please, Justice Stephen Breyer, skedaddle. You’re playing a dangerous game. You need to get out of there because it looks as if the midterms are going to be bad, and if the Democrats lose the Senate majority, there’s no guarantee that Mitch McConnell will let any Joe Biden nominee onto the court, even with two years left on the president’s term. Do you want the court to be 7 to 2?
Listen to those Democrats who are warning that staying would be irresponsible and egotistical. Don’t make the colossal mistake that Ruth Bader Ginsburg did, ignoring entreaties from top Democrats and hints from the Obama White House to leave in a timely way and hanging on so long that the worst possible outcome happened: That remarkable feminist’s seat went to the ferociously anti-abortion Lady Handmaid’s Tale, who is trying to cancel out RBG’s legacy.
And please, America, can we have term limits? Justices should not be on the court for 30 years, or into their late 80s.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who did not want the court to be seen as too extreme, has lost control because there are five more rabid conservatives running over him.
Donald Trump’s ability to get three conservatives on the court, thanks to McConnell, will turn out to be the most consequential part of his miserable presidency. And the minority leader is about to get his reward in the form of a bunch of conservative rulings.
The beauty of it for McConnell is that the court is going to do his dirty work for him. Republicans don’t want to vote to roll back abortion rights because they know it’s not popular and they don’t want their fingerprints on it. They’d prefer the court do it.
Linda Greenhouse, who has a book coming out called “Justice on the Brink,” had a piece in The Times summing up why it is brutal for our democracy to have institutions so out of step with majority views in the country: “Three polls within the past month show that fewer than a third of Americans want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade. Yet it appears that only a third of the justices can be counted on to preserve the right to abortion as defined by the court’s current precedents.” So unlucky women in red states are going back to back-alley days?
As The Times’ Adam Liptak said on “The Daily,” the Supreme Court might tinker with Roe v. Wade, or it might take “an option that will be attractive to the most conservative members of the court,” the one “that gives rise to the headline ‘Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade,’ which would be a big news day.” He also noted that the reason justices are so sensitive now is that “the authority of the Supreme Court — it’s a little hard to know where it comes from. Sure, it’s in the Constitution, but they don’t have an army, they don’t have the power of the purse. It’s not entirely clear why we do what the Supreme Court tells us to do.”
Ignore the charade of the parade of justices protesting that they are pure and neutral. Nobody’s buying it. We all know it’s a disaster if the country’s going one way and the court’s going the other.
The Least Dangerous Branch, as the court was once known, has become the Most Dangerous Branch.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times. This column originally appeared here.