The U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization should not have been a shock.
Justice Samuel Alito’s draft decision was illegally leaked nearly two months before, giving politicians on both sides plenty of warning. Not to mention 49 years of Republican promises to reverse Roe v. Wade.
Still, angry activists swarmed the streets in California, New York, Washington state and Washington, D.C., all jurisdictions with the strongest abortion protections. SCOTUS merely returned the issue to the states; it’s business as usual for the bluer swaths of the country.
The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was right: Roe was a bad opinion that warped our jurisprudence and politics for half a century. The deeply held issue of choice versus life always should have been left to voters; today, it finally is.
States get to decide? It's a key tenet of democracy
Spurred by necessity, Democrats are finally recognizing that power doesn’t reside only in the Beltway. Alicia Bannon, director of the Judiciary Program at NYU, advised abortion-rights allies that “the federal courts are only part of the story.”
“The United States is also governed by 50 state constitutions,” Bannon wrote in Politico, “each of which can potentially offer greater rights protections than the federal constitution.”
Congratulations on discovering something conservatives have touted for years. Federalism allows different states to come to different conclusions about all sorts of policies, allowing the most divisive issues to be solved by voters. Democracy is a wonderful thing.
Arizona impact: Most abortion services have now paused
Every grade-school kid learns about checks and balances: the legislative branch passes laws, the executive vetoes or signs and enforces them, and the judiciary holds each accountable. But there’s another check and balance that has long been forgotten: the states versus Washington, D.C.
The Constitution instructs the federal government to manage only those issues that are truly national: foreign policy, national defense, protecting civil rights and the like. Everything else is up to the states.
Dobbs ruling actually empowers our democracy
California can follow the economic wisdom of Venezuela, Arizona can cut taxes and regulations, and Americans can move to whichever place serves them best. The United States has always been a diverse nation; federalism allows that diversity to bloom.
Albany, N.Y., and Austin, Texas, were never intended to march in lockstep.
Despite their institutional focus on federal lawsuits, the ACLU also has rediscovered the 50 states. Executive Director Anthony Romero advised progressives that the fight has moved from the courts to the statehouses.
“We must turn to the political process and increase pressure on elected officials – especially at the state and local level,” Romero wrote in The Nation. “State Constitutions will provide opportunities for new advocacy. We can enact constitutional amendments and pass ballot measures that expand abortion rights and access.”
In other words, both sides should follow the democratic process clearly laid out in the U.S. Constitution. Protesters shouting “democracy is dying” haven’t noticed that Dobbs empowers our democracy.
Yes, that means you need to vote
Of course, this means We the People need to get of our collective duff and vote for state leaders who will best represent our views. It might require a bit more reading and door-knocking on our part, but it’s better than leaving our gravest decisions to nine unelected robes in Washington.
Another side benefit of federalism is returning some measure of sanity to our judicial nomination process. Instead of making jurists run a gauntlet of smears, personal attacks and conspiracies, the Senate can focus on their legal qualifications, prior decisions and common sense.
Whether this latest round of decisions left you furious or elated, the Supreme Court has given each of us a homework assignment. We can’t rely on some judge on the other side of the continent to fix America.
That’s our job, just as the Constitution intended.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Abortion ruling gives Democrats an epiphany about democracy