And a case from North Carolina threatens to topple American democracy
It’s pretty hard not to take it personally when the highest court in the land erases your humanity. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has rolled back a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion, the power of the state reaches right through us, deciding what happens inside our bodies. What we think and feel doesn’t matter. It doesn’t get more personal than that.
By “the state,” I mean, of course, “the states” — in our case, the gerrymandered Republican majority in the Wisconsin Legislature, which the Supreme Court put in charge when it declared, “the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”
That phrase “the people and their elected representatives” is a cruel joke in Wisconsin, where the people elected Democrats to represent them in every statewide race in 2018 and chose Democratic President Joe Biden in 2020, yet Republicans retain control of our Legislature because they’ve rigged the maps.
Never mind that. State legislatures are the proper forum for regulating individuals’ most intimate lives, according to the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Roe v. Wade was “wrongly decided” according to that opinion, because the Court “short-circuited the democratic process by closing it to the large number of Americans who disagreed with Roe.”
Most Americans agree with Roe. So do most Wisconsinites. But in states like Wisconsin, where the minority rules, we are governed by the extremists who refuse to revise our Civil War-era felony abortion ban with no exceptions for rape and incest. (And despite Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ promise not to enforce that ancient, draconian law, it is effectively now in force, since Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has decided to stop providing abortions to avoid the risk of future prosecution.)
The right-wing extremists are coming for us. And it feels very personal.
That reality hit close to home in a different way on July 4, when we learned about the horrific mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois. After murdering seven people at a holiday parade, the shooter drove to Wisconsin, where he planned to commit another mass murder. I was at my house in Madison with my family, sheltering from the thunderstorms that caused our local fireworks display to be canceled, when the shooter drove through town. Apparently he only dropped the idea of going on another shooting spree here because he didn’t have a solid plan in place. A near miss.
Keep in mind that Robert Crimo, the 21-year-old Highland Park shooter, was a licensed gun owner who bought his AR-15 style assault weapon legally.
And, according to another recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, when it comes to guns, “the people and their elected representatives” must not meddle in the sacred individual right to purchase a weapon of mass murder.
In a ruling striking down a New York law that restricted the right to carry a pistol or revolver unless the gun owner could demonstrate a credible need for self protection, the Court ruled that the restriction “violates the Fourteenth Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.”
So states can make it illegal for 10-year-old incest victims to obtain an abortion after being raped, but they can’t stop people like Crimo from bringing their guns to parades, church picnics, and other public gatherings. As Bill Berry wrote in a commentary last week, the Second Amendment has superseded the First Amendment, with its quaint language about “right of the people peaceably to assemble.” We’ve lost that right.
This madness Republicans pass off as patriotism is anathema to American values of liberty and democracy.
As Americans we expect to have the right to be safe in our homes and communities. We expect to have the freedom to regulate our own bodies and private lives without overbearing intervention by the state — not to mention nosy neighbors deputized by state legislatures to chase young women and their family members across state lines on suspicion of seeking abortions where they remain legal. And we expect the right to actual representation, not despotic minority rule.
But the right-wing of the Republican party has played a long game, undermining liberty and self-government.
As Nicole Safar, executive director of Law Forward, pointed out in a July 4th commentary for the Wisconsin Examiner, the same bad actors who worked for years to roll back abortion rights and defended anti-abortion terrorist organizations in the 1990s were also the architects of the Jan. 6 fake electors strategy and the attempt to steal the 2020 presidential election for Donald Trump.
“There is a direct through line from the anti-majoritarian movement to overrule Roe and the anti-democracy efforts of the last decade,” Safar writes.
That effort continues with yet another case recently accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court — Moore v. Harper, involving North Carolina’s voting map.
In that case, North Carolina’s state Supreme Court declared an egregiously gerrymandered Congressional district map created by Republican legislators unconstitutional. The state’s Republican leaders appealed, using an obscure, legal theory called the “independent state legislature doctrine” to argue that state legislatures can make their own rules for federal elections, and that state courts can’t override them.
If the Supreme Court agrees with the North Carolina Republicans, state legislatures would be free to override the will of the people and choose the losing candidate in the next presidential election.
Expanding the number of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court — which progressives have called for and Biden has rejected — hardly seems like a radical idea compared with the complete overthrow of democratic elections. But somehow Biden still seems reluctant to take bold steps.
Women’s March activists gathered last Saturday at the White House, where many were arrested in a sit-in, demanding that Biden do more to protect abortion rights than the steps he took in the executive order he signed on Friday to ensure medication abortion is widely accessible and to protect patient privacy. Biden has been agonizingly slow to respond to the long-anticipated elimination of federally protected abortion rights, and advocates want the president to declare a public health emergency and make abortion services available in restricted states on federal land.
The Women’s March is right. The attacks on our rights, our democracy and our civil society have escalated to the point where we have to start taking these things personally. We have to fight like our lives depend on it. Because they do