Republicans control the Supreme Court today because they fought for it — by any means necessary. From the founding of The Federalist Society in 1982, conservative special interests have relentlessly pursued control of the judicial branch. Their strategy culminated in 2016 when, with a Supreme Court seat vacant following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Republican senators fell in line behind Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to deny President Barack Obama the opportunity to fill it.
Throughout, Republicans and conservatives worked to bring conservative activists and voters into the fight. During the 2016 campaign, Republicans talked constantly about how important the nation's high court is. Candidate Donald Trump even broke with tradition to announce a list of potential nominees, mobilizing and unifying conservative voters.
As progressives, we need to admit that the broad Democratic coalition — including progressive activists — did not do enough to stop Republicans from stealing that seat and, with it, control of the court. The Supreme Court was low-profile in most progressive and Democratic messaging in 2016 — especially compared with the drumbeat from the right. And, ultimately,Trump won voters who considered the Supreme Court the “most important factor” in their vote by 15 points.
Dangerous policies rubber-stamped
As a result of Senate Republicans’ stonewalling of President Obama and changing Senate rules to confirm President Trump’s nominee, five Republican-appointed justices control the Supreme Court today. The consequences have been disastrous. They have rubber-stamped many of President Trump’s most dangerous policies — from his Muslim travel ban to his transgender military ban to his attacks on affordable birth control. And they have damaged our democracy, greenlighting partisan gerrymandering and forcing Wisconsinites to choose between practicing safe social distancing and exercising their right to vote.
While this term brought some welcome victories for progressives, the narrow nature of those decisions and Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appalling votes only go to show that the future of the Supreme Court is on the line right now, and that the dangers of Trump appointing more justices are profound.
Progressives continue to ignore the Supreme Court at their peril. This year can, and must, be different.
We do not agree on everything. We supported different candidates in both the 2016 and the 2020 presidential primary. We have devoted our careers to working on different sets of issues — and we have different visions for how the progressive movement and Democratic Party should move forward. But we are absolutely united on this: Progressives must, and can, unite around fighting for control of the Supreme Court.
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Without action, everything we care about is at risk. Republicans have long turned to the Supreme Court to enact their deeply unpopular agenda: repealing affordable health care, undoing commonsense gun violence prevention measures, tilting the law in favor of corporations and the wealthy, making it harder for workers to organize, undercutting the fundamental freedom to make decisions about your own body and reproduction, and weakening civil rights protections. If Trump is able to appoint more Supreme Court justices, he will cement a right-wing majority that will enact a partisan, Republican agenda from the bench for decades to come.
Time for progressives to fight back
We think the moment has arrived when progressives are ready to fight back. While Trump’s hijacking of our courts has done enormous damage, it has also spurred those of us who oppose his agenda to mobilize around our judiciary. The Kavanaugh confirmation battle showed us all just how far Republicans are willing to go to entrench their Supreme Court majority — and the court’s unjust recent opinions have shown how damaging their campaign is to everything we care about. Progressives are fed up with a court that undermines democracy and civil rights, threatens access to health care and favors the rich and the powerful above everyone else.
Fortunately, most Americans agree with us. They oppose the Trump-backed lawsuit asking the court to overturn the Affordable Care Act and attacks on our democracy such as partisan gerrymandering and the court's Citizens United decision. We should take a page out of the conservative playbook by making sure our friends and neighbors know every time the court turns on them.
With the possibility of a Supreme Court vacancy looming and the balance of the court on the line, the coming months could determine our country’s future for generations. This is our chance to send a message that we will not allow our children to grow up in an America where people like Brett Kavanaugh control an entire branch of government. We plan on taking it.
The authors are members of the advisory board of Supreme Court Voter:
Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy
Ady Barkan, co-founder of Be a Hero
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, physician and progressive activist
Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice
Anna Galland, former executive director of MoveOn
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America
María Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino
Jen Psaki, former White House communications director
Jess Morales Rocketto, executive director of Care in Action and civic engagement director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance
Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats
Maya Rupert, progressive strategist and writer
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fight to control Supreme Court or risk everything Democrats care about