Supreme Court Upholds Tyranny of the Majority — and Tarnishes Itself

Voting Rights Decision Will Only Speed Erosion of Credibility

Voting Rights: Representatives of various groups including the NAACP gathered outside of the Supreme Court to hear the ruling on the Voting Rights Act challenge.
getty images
Voting Rights: Representatives of various groups including the NAACP gathered outside of the Supreme Court to hear the ruling on the Voting Rights Act challenge.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published June 28, 2013, issue of July 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

In 2010, in McDonald v. Chicago, they ruled for the first time in Supreme Court history that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to keep weapons, irrespective of any militia. That was also the year of Citizens United, which overturned a century’s worth of federal legislation and court precedent limiting corporate campaign spending.

The Roberts Court isn’t the first to use its ultimate power to introduce sweeping social change. The Warren Court ended public school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954; guaranteed defendants’ right to counsel in Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963, and overturned state bans on interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia in 1967. The Burger Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

The difference is that those earlier cases had the effect of protecting individuals and minorities from government misconduct and the tyranny of the majority. The Roberts Court’s rulings nearly always have the effect of upholding government against the individual, business against consumer or employee, rich against poor and powerful against the weak.

What’s more, past courts have tempered their daring with a sense of caution and modesty. Recognizing that their rulings would stir dissension, they made sure they were united at least among themselves. Their most controversial decisions were usually unanimous — or at least, as in Roe’s 7-2 vote, by overwhelming majority. The Roberts Court, by contrast, has shown its contempt for dissent by deciding nearly all its most controversial rulings 5-4.

And the public has returned the contempt. Approval of the court, hovering around 80% in the 1980s, dropped to an all-time low of 52% in a March 2013 Pew survey. Gallup found approval even lower, at 44%.

More ominous, a May 2013 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 87% of the public believes justices’ decisions are influenced by their political views (55% said “a lot,” 32% said “a little”). Republican respondents are more likely to believe the justices should rule solely on law. Democrats slightly favor public opinion as a guide. Neither favors a court that rules by party ideology, but that’s what we’ve got.

That doesn’t mean that the chasm between the court’s conservative and liberal wings is a party-line split. After all, throughout the 2000s the four liberal justices included two Republican appointees, John Paul Stevens and David Souter. They weren’t really liberals. What separated them from the conservatives was their open-mindedness. Nowadays, that’s called liberal.

Beyond the damage it does to the rights of American citizens, the Voting Rights decision exposes the conservatives’ doctrine of originalism — of supposedly strict adherence to the intentions of the Founders — for what it really is: an excuse for trampling over established law and precedent in order to achieve an ideologically defined result.

The end goal is increasingly transparent: to reinforce the power and privilege of the right. The only way to stop it is at the ballot box.

Our ancient teachers understood the dangers posed by judges who don’t play it straight. It’s not just those individuals unfairly judged who suffer — society as a whole loses a bit of its soul.

Contact J.J. Goldgerg at goldberg@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.