The Supreme Court’s power really might be limitless

When I was a kid, I was the kind of dweeb who said “Supreme Court Justice” instead of “astronaut” or “quarterback” when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was too young to understand that I’d have to go through law school and, worse, probably be an actual lawyer before they’d let me be on the Supreme Court, so as I got older that dream seemed less and less appealing. But what I understood, even at a pretty young age, was that if you were going to work in a branch of the government, the Supreme Court was the one to pick, because its powers were so obviously above the other two branches. I mean, lifetime appointments, the ability to pants the president or Congress whenever you got the chance, and no check apart from the appointment/confirmation process (which only happens once, so you can fake humility it until its over) and impeachment (which is a virtual impossibility)? Sign me up, you know? Who wouldn’t want to be one of the nine co-despots who really run this supposed democratic republic?

(As an aside, when American pundits explain (and I don’t mean to single out Genieve Abdo, who’s really pretty decent as far as I have ever seen) that Iran’s president doesn’t really have any power, since he’s subject to the dictates of the Shiʿa theocracy above him, do they consider the fact that America has a Christian tribunal with total veto power evaluating the religious implications of laws passed by Congress? Or, if you prefer, a panel of rich folks with unchecked power making decisions about the proper role of money in our politics? I mean, those folks aren’t wrong about Iran, exactly, but they don’t seem to entertain the possibility that the theocratic and/or unelected elements of Iran’s political system aren’t exactly unheard of elsewhere.)

Anyhoo, it seems that even my lofty childhood estimates of the Supreme Court’s powers greatly underestimated their scope. In the “Hobby Lobby” ruling released today, the court continued its trend toward ensuring that corporations are not just persons, but a protected class of persons whose rights and powers far exceed what most of us could ever expect to have as individuals, by deciding that “closely held” corporations (meaning private corps or those with very high concentrations of shares in the hands of a few people) have the right to deny contraception coverage to their employees on the basis of “their” religious beliefs (really, the owners’ religious beliefs, since like it or not a “corporation” cannot hold religious beliefs). But that was expected. What was also expected is that the court’s determination that a corporation can practice a religion would lead to all sorts of new legal challenges to various laws. You might have seen a company owned by Scientologists suing to avoid the requirement to pay for mental health treatment, or a company owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses suing to avoid having to pay for blood transfusions. Or a company owned by idiots suing to avoid having to pay for vaccinations.

Or a company owned by bigots suing for the right to fire gay folks because Old Testament.

But the court majority seems to have anticipated these things and crafted a decision that doesn’t apply to those other cases. Why doesn’t it apply? Well, because the majority Says So. Apparently, and this is the kind of thing I missed by not going to law school, the court’s powers extend not just over the other branches of government, but over logic and words as well. So it doesn’t matter if there’s logically no reason why a company couldn’t now sue for the right to fire sinners, or to get out of paying for some other objectionable (on religious grounds) medical treatment, citing this ruling as precedent, the majority said “nuh-uh, can’t do that” so that’s the end of that. Not to say that those groups aren’t preparing their lawsuits as we speak, it’s just that the Hobby Lobby decision can’t be used to justify their claims despite the fact that logically it does justify them, because Supreme Court Magick.

If I had known the full extent of the court’s authority, maybe law school wouldn’t have seemed like such a drag.

Author: DWD

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