United States President Donald Trump and the Republican Party are trying to ram through a coup, writes Barry Sheppard. Running roughshod over multiple allegations of sexual assault and insulting the women involved, they seek to solidify a far-right majority of five out of nine members on the Supreme Court for the next several decades.
We are witnessing the grotesque spectacle of a president — who openly boasts that because he is rich and famous he can do whatever he wishes to women and who faces allegations of sexual assault from at least 16 women — nominating for the highest court a man who faces credible accusations of trying to rape a young woman while they both were in high school.
The world watched Dr Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Trump’s nominee Brett Kavanaugh, recount her experience before the Senate Judicial committee considering his nomination. Even the Republicans on the committee said it was a credible testimony, yet still voted to support the accused for a lifetime seat on the Court.
When Kavanaugh testified, he shouted, ranted, denied he ever had a drinking problem, said he was a victim of the Clintons, evaded questions and exhibited abnormal behavior. The high school Kavanaugh attended was an elite private Catholic school known for drunken parties that featured gang rapes of women.
Then two other women came forward with extra charges of sexual assault against Kavanaugh.
In a rant defending his nominee, Trump attacked the #MeToo movement. Claiming that powerful men are under attack, the president said men facing allegations are also victims.
As of October 3, the success or otherwise of the coup hinged on the votes in the full Senate of two “moderate” Republican women and one male Republican. All other Republican Senators are solidly behind Kavanaugh.
Because of a mass outcry in support of Ford, Senate Republicans reluctantly agreed to have the FBI investigate the charges for a few days. However, it was not clear what this right-wing political police agency actually investigated.
The FBI report, sent by the White House to the Senate committee in the middle of the night on October 4, was denounced by Senate Democrats as a whitewash. This whitewash means unless there is a last-minute change of votes, Kavanaugh will join the Supreme Court.
If Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate, he will join four already existing far-right members, originally nominated by Republican Presidents and then confirmed by the Senate, including with the votes of most Democratic Party Senators. Kavanaugh was nominated by Trump to fill the vacancy left by the June resignation of Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Kennedy was described as a “swing” vote on the court, because he sometimes voted with the “moderates”. However, he sided with the four hard right justices in the past 14 divided votes before he resigned. This includes backing Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban, giving the thumbs up to Texas’ drawing up of election districts to discriminate against Latinos and Blacks, and to the “right” of businesses to discriminate against LGBTI customers.
When Kennedy did vote against the gang of four, he blocked some restrictions on the right of women to choose abortion.
Kavanaugh will not sometimes stray as Kennedy did, solidifying the far right majority. This majority wants to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court ruling affirming the right to abortion, commonly referred to as “Roe vs. Wade”.
Trump promised that he would only nominate those who would vote to overturn the right to abortion — or at least what’s left of it, since the court has approved restrictions enacted by many states that have made it virtually impossible for women to obtain abortions in those states.
To understand how this situation has arisen, it is important to look at two things specifically: what the Supreme Court is, and how the Republican Party became so far-right in recent years.
The Supreme Court, the top of the judicial system in the US, is not selected democratically. Moreover, the justices sit on the court for life.
There is no democratic way for a Supreme Court judge to be removed by popular vote, and it is extremely difficult for them to be removed at all. Only the House of Representatives can vote to impeach a justice, with a trial then held by the Senate. A two-thirds majority in the Senate is needed for a conviction.
Supreme Court members are first nominated by the sitting president when vacancies appear due to retirement or death. The nominations are first considered by the Judicial Committee of the Senate. The committee then votes on whether the nominee is presented to the full Senate for final vote.
The Senate itself is selected undemocratically. It is elected by popular vote, but consists of two Senators from each state regardless of population. Thus California, with nearly 40 million residents, has two senators, while Delaware, with a population less than 1 million, also has two.
The Senate was initially set up this way to give more power to the Southern slave states, but it continues today to elevate the power of small states. This is called “states rights” and is often manipulated by the ruling class to further reactionary causes.
For example, during the period of the suppression of African Americans called the Jim Crow system in the former slave states after the Civil War, the racist segregationists held disproportionate power in the Senate.
The Supreme Court has the final say on whether, in the opinion of its majority, any law passed by Congress is “constitutional”, if it is challenged in lower courts. That is, five people can overturn any challenged law.
The Court stands as an equal power to Congress. For example in 2013, by a five-to-four vote, it overturned a law that came out of the Black struggle of the 1960s. This law required that any laws impacting the right to vote in the former Jim Crow states had to be approved by the federal government.
Since that decision, voter suppression, mainly in those states, has resulted in about 16 million voters being struck from the rolls.
The majority of the court defended its decision by arguing that racism is no longer a factor in the US.
Another decision was the 2010 ruling that declared corporations are legally persons and had the right to free speech. Combined with an earlier decision that declared money spent on elections is “free speech”, this means that corporations can spend as much money on elections as they want. It gives them far more power to meddle in US elections than Vladimir Putin ever dreamed of.
In these cases, Kennedy voted with the majority.
Republicans move right
Another factor in play is the steady move to the right of the Republican Party since the 1970s. During the seven decades of the severe oppression of African Americans in the former Confederacy that began in 1877, these states were under one-party rule — that of the Democratic Party. Blacks were denied the right to vote, with individual token exceptions. The national Democratic Party had the support of the “Solid South”.
Under the mass pressure of the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1950s and ’60s, the national Democratic Party broke with its Southern wing, called Dixiecrats, and enacted laws overturning Jim Crow segregation laws.
Republicans saw an opportunity to gain the support of racist whites, and organised their “Southern strategy”. The strategy has led to Dixiecrats becoming Dixiecans — the “Solid South” has reliably been Republican for decades.
Republicans extended their racist message to the rest of the country. This has most often not been done with open racist terms, but with implied racist messages that have come to be called “dog whistles”.
When Barack Obama became the first African-American to be elected president in 2008, white racists exploded in anger. This further fuelled the most right-wing Republicans organised in the “Tea Party”, ensuring a Republican victory in the 2010 midterm elections.
Republicans have been in the forefront of the reaction to the victories of the radicalisation of “The ’60s”, not only concerning Black rights, but other issues as well. This includes their drive to overturn Roe vs Wade and to restrict the rights of LGBTI people. Another is the persecution of largely Latino immigrants without papers, and the inclusion of Latinos in their racist drive.
Democrats tail Republicans
As Republicans moved to the far right, Democrats have moved rightwards in their tow, just not as far. This was done under their “trianglisation” policy of choosing the middle ground between their previous “progressive” positions taken under the pressure of “The ’60s”, and the increasingly hard right Republicans. As Republicans moved further right, the “middle” did so too.
Add to this the widespread pain caused by the Great Recession, and the stage was set for an authoritarian demagogue like Trump to capture the Republican Party — and drive forward its reactionary agenda, including on the Supreme Court.