BY JEFF MACKLER
Whenever I flinch at yet another reactionary U.S. Supreme Court decision I am reminded of Anatole France’s famous observation, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, or steal bread.”
In late June, in the now infamous Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court of capitalist America applied the “personal protections” of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to “closely held” for-profit corporations—in this instance, to the Green family-owned Hobby Lobby’s 500 craft stores, with more than 13,000 employees. The medical plans afforded these low-paid workers will now, based on the Green family’s religious beliefs, exclude them from contraception coverage as specified by the Affordable Care Act.
The Obama administration’s response was to note that the decision was of little consequence because the government could find ways to pay for the now excluded corporate coverage. That is, what the Court has now granted to employers with regard to lesser costs would be passed on to taxpayers in higher taxes.
Some observers quickly concluded that the Court’s decision might well be followed by a sudden “taking to religion” by many of America’s “closely held” corporations to meet the Hobby Lobby’s now “legalized” freedom to exclude contraceptive coverage.
But no, interpreters of this “narrow decision” were comforted that it was conceived by the Supreme Court as an essentially exceptional exclusion—that is, until a week or so later, when the same Court ruled similarly in a case brought by Wheaton College, another religion-based institution. Here too, contraception is now eliminated from the college’s responsibility, with the cost again to be passed on to the government.
The slew of reactionary Supreme Court decisions over the past month includes exclusion from union dues check-off of thousands of home-care workers and the striking down of Massachusetts’ 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics, which was enacted to stop the harassment, not to mention physical attacks, of patients exercising their right to choose abortion. Within days, the fetus fanatics were back at clinic entrances, supposedly exercising what the Supreme Court so liberally described as their “democratic right to free speech and assembly.”
Socialists have long noted that capitalist courts, absent massive social movements fighting to defend and expand democratic rights, are not likely to champion these rights. Indeed, the same courts that today allow women to be physically and verbally affronted when entering abortion clinics, in the name of free speech and assembly, have no problem striking down these basic democratic rights when activists apply for permits to protest the never-ending U.S. imperialist wars.
The courts regularly recognize “buffer zones” to “protect” capitalist institutions, as with the present restrictions on demonstrations near the Supreme Court itself. In New York City, the courts have consistently upheld broad restrictions on the right to march and rally—excluding vast portions of the city, like the Central Park area, from demonstrations.
Restrictions in many cities include forcibly penning in demonstrators block by block with police barricades with restricted access, limiting the use of sound amplification, and more. What was taken for granted 50 years ago, having been won in mass struggles, as with the Vietnam-era and civil rights protests involving millions, must be fought for tooth and nail today.
In the case of the right to abortion, the mass protests and clinic defense of the 1980s and after, organized by the women’s movement, were the only reliable way of ensuring women’s basic rights under the law. Tens of thousands mobilized at that time to defend the abortion clinics from right-wing fanatics operating in the name of religion, like Operation Rescue.
Meanwhile, police mobilizations were routinely organized to protect the anti-abortion fanatics’ “right to protest.” The lion’s share of those arrested at that time were the women who organized to defend clinics against violent attacks by anti-abortion protesters. Of the hundreds of clinic bombings, physical assaults, death threats, and murders committed by these elements, few offenders were prosecuted and convicted. The Court’s decision today will undoubtedly serve to once again convince pro-choice activists that the reliance on the courts or the twin parties of capital are no arena to protect women’s basic right to choose.
Undoubtedly, the June decisions of the Supreme Court, supposedly limited to the particular instances that were litigated in Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College, will now be taken up across the nation as “similarly situated” institutions seek to press for their own exclusions.
This will undoubtedly be the case with a recent California Superior Court decision that struck down teacher tenure and seniority. In his instance, the court argued that failure by Black and poor students was a result of laws that prevent “incompetent” teachers from being fired. Citing the “democratic right” under the state’s constitution to an equal education, the court ignored society’s institutional racism that inflicts poverty and hopelessness on the nation’s increasingly re-segregated and under-funded youth, and placed the blame on teachers and their union contracts that protect them from administrative abuse and discrimination.
In a matter of weeks a similar suit was filed in New York City, with the objective of eliminating teachers’ tenure. No doubt the virus of capitalist injustice will spread across the country as the ruling rich seek to blame capitalism’s failure on its victims.
Ruling-class hype over “democratic rights,” the “right” to deepen the attacks on working people and the oppressed and exploited, is today used to line the pockets of the corporate elite, as with the present efforts to privatize public education and the U.S. Postal Service.
A July 4 New York Times headline proclaimed, “Hiring Is Strong and Jobless Rate Declines to 6.1%,” to indicate that the economy is recovering after six devastating years of recession/depression. The Times neglected to note that first-quarter GDP growth declined 2.9 percent.
While pointing to Wall Street’s high-flying all-time stock market records, with the Dow Jones average for the first time closing at above 17,000, it felt compelled to state: “Despite broad gains, [in the stock market] the economy is still a long way from its peak before the housing bubble burst and the recession began at the end of 2007. The broadest measure of unemployment, which includes people who are working part time because full-time positions are not available, stands at 12.1 percent. And the proportion of Americans in the labor force has been stuck for three straight months at 62.8 percent, a 36-year low, and it’s down sharply from 66 percent in 2008.”
In truth, the real unemployment figures are much higher, given that the government’s calculations exclude millions who have dropped out of the labor market entirely and/or who are no longer eligible to receive unemployment insurance.
The above figures are important indicators of the crisis of capitalism, which has no alternative but to deepen the exploitation of the vast majority in order to rip off an increasing share of the wealth that working people produce.
This transfer of wealth to the rich has reached historic proportions in the U.S. and across the capitalist world, and with it, an ideological offensive has gained ground wherein reactionary ideas are clothed in populist or “democratic” garb.
In the name of religious protections, corporations profit by attacking women’s rights, and unions lose their rights for the same reason, as “legal” technicalities are forever found to justify corporate greed. Billionaire elites form “radical-sounding” solutions to the racist and classist-induced failure of public education, with never-ending diatribes as to why private corporate-run schools are superior to public education.
In all these matters, “liberal”-sounding politicians like President Obama position themselves as defenders of the poor, while leading the U.S. and worldwide capitalist offensive that produces war, racism, and poverty for the overwhelming majority. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent string of reactionary decisions merely reflects the overall needs of the ruling elites, who require the subordination of the needs and desires of the vast majority to the private profit system.
All the hoopla attendant to the “dissenting opinions” of the Court’s four Democratic Party appointees is nothing less than the veneer of democracy and debate placed over a sick social system, whose inherent evils can only be remedied by its revolutionary replacement via the conscious organization of a socialist alternative representing the 99 percent.