Progressives Need a Vision for a Supreme Court They Can Fight For

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Commentary Law and Policy

Progressives Need a Vision for a Supreme Court They Can Fight For

Katie O’Connor

Democrats might be late to the party, but they can make the Court a winning issue.

Republicans were not always on board with Donald Trump.

It might be hard to remember that now with Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) suggesting Trump is the greatest golfer in the history of the universe and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gushing about the president to Time magazine like a teenager at a Taylor Swift concert. But during the Republican primary in 2016, many Republicans had deep and obviously well-founded misgivings about Trump’s interest in learning to govern, his ability to do so, and his fitness for the office he sought. Some members of the GOP also had misgivings about Trump’s conservative credentials—he had, after all, been a pro-choice Democrat—and whether he would really play for their team if elected.

While Trump never did show an interest in learning to govern, an ability to do so, or even the slightest evidence that he’s fit to be president, he ultimately overcame the fears about his conservative credentials. That’s thanks in no small part to conservatives’ belief that Trump could deliver them the federal courts.

In 2016, then-candidate Trump released a list of names and vowed to use it to fill the existing vacancy and any future vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Federalist Society, an influential right-wing legal organization, was largely credited with creating the list. It included people like William Pryor, who as Alabama’s attorney general filed a brief in the Supreme Court equating homosexuality with “prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography, and even incest and pedophilia.” It also included Diane Sykes, who as a judge commended radical anti-abortion protesters during their criminal sentencing hearing, saying, “I do respect you a great deal for having the courage of your convictions and for the ultimate goals that you sought to achieve by this conduct.”

Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.

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After seeing that list, conservatives were willing to overlook their other concerns, get in line, and vote to elect the absolute worst human being imaginable as president. Republicans effectively used the Supreme Court as a winning issue in 2016 despite having an erratic candidate loathed by many of his voters because they have been conditioning their voters to care about the Court for decades.

Democrats might be late to the party, but they can make the Court a winning issue, too.

Of course, progressive voters need to understand what they’re fighting against. Abortion access is more imperiled than it’s ever been, and the slow march toward equality for LGBTQ people is at risk of stopping—or even being rolled back. This Court is likely to drastically limit gun violence prevention measures and contract the right to vote at every chance it gets. And the Supreme Court has for decades favored the rights of corporations over the rights of workers and everyday Americans.

More importantly, though, progressives need a vision of the Court they can fight for. That’s why Demand Justice recently released our own list of lawyers and judges who we believe should be considered for the Supreme Court during the next Democratic administration. Our list includes some incredible litigators, scholars, and judges who represent the country’s rich diversity and the progressive values that get Democratic voters to the polls.

Anita Earls, for example, founded the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and spent ten years there fighting tirelessly to protect the voting rights of communities of color before becoming a justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Cecillia Wang was a public defender before joining the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), where she spearheaded the fight against Trump’s unconstitutional and unconscionable Muslim ban. Melissa Murray is a brilliant feminist law professor and one of the country’s leading experts on constitutional law and reproductive rights and justice.

The Demand Justice shortlist is brimming with people like this, people who have been putting in the work for progressive causes for decades. These are progressive champions, and putting their names onto a single list illustrates what a progressive Supreme Court could look like. This is a list that progressives can fight for in 2020.

Progressive voters are starting to demand answers about the Court from Democratic presidential candidates. That’s why, for instance, the candidates were asked in the latest debate what they would do to protect Roe v. Wade from the current conservative Supreme Court.

The Court is rightfully becoming an important issue on the left, and if Democratic presidential candidates are serious about the bold progressive policies that they champion in their stump speeches, they need to get in the fight. Because with this conservative Supreme Court, so many of those policies would be dead on arrival. A Green New Deal, Medicare for All, meaningful gun violence prevention legislation, and myriad other substantive issues that motivate Democratic voters at the polls are all at risk under this Supreme Court.

Democrats can make the Court a winning issue if they give progressive voters something to fight for. The Demand Justice shortlist demonstrates there is no shortage of legal champions of progressive values from whom to choose when presidential candidates create their own list of Supreme Court candidates—which we encourage them to do.