Sunday, January 22, 2023

Courts Are the Cornerstone of Our Fight for Democracy

Over the last few months, I've written quite a bit about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis - focused mostly on his efforts to punish Disney. To put that into some context, it was shortly after the governor signed the bill stripping Disney of it's special tax status that I learned more about the so-called "National Conservatives" who have been embracing fascism  (ala Viktor Orban) as a way to fight the culture wars. It was clear to me that DeSantis was doing more to advance that cause than any other Republican. Almost every day brings yet another revelation about his intentions.

As I was writing the most recent piece about where things stand between DeSantis and Disney, it became clear that the whole fiasco might wind up being decided in the courts. Actually, that's where a lot of the governor's agenda has landed. 

According to the Miami Herald, DeSantis's stunts have resulted in 15 lawsuits that have cost Florida's taxpayers $17 million in legal fees to date. The Herald summed up the results with this: "In case after case, courts have scaled back, thrown out, or left in legal limbo rules and laws that impose restrictions on social media giants; limit voting; curb gender-related health care; influence speech in the workplace, college campuses and classrooms; and create new crimes for peaceful protests.” 

The good news is that the courts don't seem to be buying what the governor is selling. But here's the bad news: I doubt DeSantis cares. There are several reasons why.

First of all, DeSantis - like most Republicans these days - is into performative politics. He grabs headlines with these moves and the GOP base loves them. Months later, when the courts weigh in, no one notices. And if they do, the governor will simply undermine our judicial system by claiming it is proof that the courts are "too woke." 

Secondly, to the extent that National Conservatives continue to follow in the footsteps of Hungary's Viktor Orban, they will corrupt the court system. After documenting DeSantis's attacks on the First Amendment, Ian Millhiser provides this warning:

The greatest danger, if DeSantis continues to consolidate power, isn’t that he will sign more amateurish laws that are ultimately struck down. It’s that some of these laws may be upheld in precedent-setting decisions that could do considerable violence to the First Amendment...

The most troubling thing about DeSantis’s war on free expression, in other words, isn’t that he’s signed several unconstitutional laws that seek to suppress viewpoints he does not like — or even that he’s used his authority as governor to target institutions that dared to criticize him. It’s that, if DeSantis someday becomes president, he could fill the courts with more judges like Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch.

Of course, that effort to corrupt the courts has been underway for years now by Mitch McConnell and Leonard Leo

If all of that fails, at least one National Conservative has articulated the plan.

“I tend to think that we should seize the institutions of the left,” he said. “And turn them against the left. We need like a de-Baathification program, a de-woke-ification program.”...

“And when the courts stop you,” he went on, “stand before the country, and say...the chief justice has made his ruling. Now let him enforce it.”

The man who said that is J.D. Vance - who is now a member of the U.S. Senate. 

Keep in mind that these are the same people who fomented an insurrection when a presidential election didn't go their way. Does anyone really think that, when push comes to shove, they'll abide by rulings of the courts?

I hate to be such a Debbie Downer, but those are the stakes at play these days. That's why, flying under the radar, Biden and Democrats in the Senate have done this

The effort continues. Just this week Biden announced his 29th round of judicial nominations - bringing the total to 154. While a lot of attention is focused on the Supreme Court (which hears about 80 cases a year), courts of appeals handle tens of thousands of cases annually — often making them the last word in cases that impact the lives of Americans.

As the GOP-controlled House works on blowing things up, Democrats in the Senate will work on healing our broken judiciary. Those efforts won't garner much attention, but they are the cornerstone of our fight for democracy. 

1 comment:

  1. I would think Biden would look for a way to stymie the Republicans shopping for judges who are sympathetic to their political beliefs. It happens continuously in Texas and recently in Florida with Judge Cannon blocking the Justice Depatments access to trump documents. States should be forced to bring cases to the districts bound to each case.


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