Commentary. The Supreme Court’s ruling affects us all intimately, because it represents the culmination of a 50-year project to dismantle social progress and civil rights acquired over half a century. If it happened in the first Western democracy, it can happen anywhere.

The coup leaders wear robes: chronicle of a 35-year assault

The repeal of the decision that had protected the right to abortion in the U.S. for half a century is a major blow. Against American women first of all, who in half the states of the union are set to lose control over their own bodies. But the repeal of this constitutional protection, which was supported by large majorities of citizens, also marks a dark day for U.S. democracy itself, which has crossed the threshold to a backwards model of government and jurisprudence.

The ruling invalidating Roe v. Wade came as the culmination of a series of decisions by the Court’s conservative majority that upheld the right of religious schools in Maine to receive state funding and banned New York from restricting the carrying of guns.

These rulings together enshrined the judiciary as an ideological force capable of holding the majority hostage. It is clear now that the Supreme Court aims to turn the clock back to before the civil rights movements, the great struggles for emancipation (of women, Blacks, Hispanics) and progress, which were not local issues but the heritage of world progressivism. That is why the Washington ruling affects us all intimately, because it represents the culmination of a 50-year project to dismantle social progress and civil rights acquired over half a century. If it happened in the first Western democracy, it can happen anywhere.

The path leading up to Friday’s ruling was a long wave of radicalization that began in the 1960s with Barry Goldwater, father of the modern ideological right, and found its main expression in the radical conservatism of Ronald Reagan. Reagan was heir to Goldwater’s radical brand of neoliberalism and the proponent of an ideological alliance with white evangelicals. He took from the fundamentalist religious sects, and brought into politics, the bigotry and dogmatism which were activated in the “culture wars,” for which abortion immediately became a central issue. Radical anti-abortion groups such as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, which picketed counseling centers and railed against the “sinful atheists,” solidified the base of the Reagan Revolution.

With Reagan and his “Christian soldiers,” a fundamental message was established: no mediation or compromise was possible with the sect that has now scaled the rungs of government wielding the sacred texts of the Bible and Constitution.

Indeed, the movement advocated for a worship of the Constitution, as the unchanging word of the Founding Fathers, just as fanatical as that of the Bible. “Originalism” was formulated as a constitutional justification for the reactionary program and was a project Reagan entrusted to Antonin Scalia, the arch-conservative justice he appointed to the Supreme Court in 1986.

Over a 30-year career on the Court, the Italian-American judge was a tireless standard bearer for the Reagan doctrine, acting as an immovable bulwark against social progress on gun control, abortion, gay marriage and the death penalty. Scalia was also a key figure in the Federalist Society, an association of conservative jurists which – like a sort of secular Opus Dei – compiled a list of candidates with certified ideological credentials from which Republican presidents have drawn for judicial appointments for many years. The institutional process involving lifetime appointments of judges by sitting presidents was supposed to ensure an ideological balance in rulings. However, the Federalist Society “militarized” the system by enlisting the Court in the conservative ideological crusade.

A key event in the takeover of the Court was the Republican boycott of Obama’s nomination of a justice to replace Scalia, who died in 2016. As a result, during his presidency, Trump, who continued the populist legacy of the Tea Party Movement, was able to select no less than three nominees from the lists of those ideologically certified by the Federalist Society. The six judges who signed Friday’s ruling, against the wishes of more than 70 percent of the people, all belong to that organization.

The current “right-thinking” 6-3 majority is free at last to pursue the “originalist” ideological project. In Justice Alito’s arguments for Friday’s ruling, for instance, we read that abortion cannot be a right because the Constitution (drafted in 1787) makes no mention of it. If there were any doubts left about the ultimate goal of this anti-modern crusade, Justice Clarence Thomas (whose wife participated in the January 6 insurrection) clarified things by suggesting what the next targets of the “revision” will be: the rights to contraception, LGBTQ rights and gay marriage.

The Supreme Court is thus an expression of the same radicalization manifested on January 6, 2021 – and, just like that “uprising,” it is an expression of abuse by a minority. But while these days the committee investigating the attack on Capitol Hill is proving Donald Trump’s responsibility as the instigator of that subversion, the Supreme Court is conducting its own palace coup.

Friday’s decision is a symptom of a deeper pathology. The U.S., which, despite the policies of its governments, has been able to show historic progress thanks to the activism of large social movements, now risks becoming a poster child for a shocking regression to a previous age, a retreat that fortifies securitarian and theocratic populisms and the advance of obscurantism around the world. We should all be concerned about this, right now.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!