Republicans are trying to destroy our democracy.
Let’s see, when did it start? For recent times, we can go back to 2000: Bush v. Gore. Al Gore won the popular vote, but a controversy arose in Florida, dealing with irregularities and the possibility of a recount.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that no constitutionally valid recount could be completed by a “safe harbor” deadline, effectively handing the presidency to George W. Bush.
The decision was widely criticized. Several of the justices, it’s argued, should have recused themselves; Sandra Day O’Connor had earlier made a public statement that a Gore victory would delay her retirement. On the conservative side, Clarence Thomas’ wife was intimately involved with the Bush campaign, and Antonin Scalia’s son was working for the firm appointed by Bush to argue his case.
Many scholars deplore 5-4 decisions. They give a picture of the Supreme Court’s being ruled, not by fair application of the law, but by blatant partisanship. Indeed Republicans, especially Mitch McConnell, are determined to reshape courts in their conservative image. President Trump inherited 88 district court and 17 court of appeals vacancies because of the flimsy confirmation record of the 2015-16 Senate. Texas Republicans even used the threat of “blue slip vetoes” to forestall Obama’s nominations.
Barack Obama was elected twice, winning both the Electoral College and the popular vote. Any student of history would see his election as a result of the democratic process that should have given him all executive duties defined in the Constitution.
One of those duties is to nominate justices with the “advice and consent of the Senate.” On March 16, 2016, with nine months left in office, Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fulfill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. McConnell, in a move defined by scholars as “unprecedented,” refused even to hold a hearing.
Thus with a Republican president and a Republican Senate, we ended up with Neil Gorsuch.
In 2013, Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court, in another 5-4 decision, gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, ruling it was based on old data.
Within three years, 868 polling places were closed down. States passed laws removing online voter registration, early voting, same-day registration, and pre-registration for teens about to turn 18. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the states most likely to enact voting restrictions were states with the highest African-American turnout in the 2008 election.
And then we have Wisconsin. The Republican Legislature, later bolstered by another 5-4 Supreme Court decision, refused to pass legislation converting the election to an all-mail vote that would count all ballots received by May 19.
Wisconsin, like many states, was under a stay-at-home order. How many of us want, literally, to risk our lives in order to vote? Hundreds of polling places were closed because of health concerns. Low voter turnout has been shown to benefit Republicans, and of course many of the health risks were in cities, where there are more Democratic voters. (The Trump Supreme Court incumbent lost, which may reflect voter anger.)
And now President Trump is encouraging people to resist government authority.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, in an April 9 column called “American Democracy may be Dying,” laments the “travesty” of Wisconsin’s election “because it shows that America as we know it may not survive much longer. The pandemic will eventually end; the economy will eventually recover. But democracy, once lost, may never come back. And we’re much closer to losing our democracy than many people realize.”
What will happen in November? We don’t know.
Chuck and Pat Wemstrom live in rural Mount Carroll. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.