Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
Sunday, June 30, 2019 | 2 a.m.
The punchline to a well-worn joke is — timing!
That is also the punchline to life as we know it in these United States. In this case, though, it is no laughing matter.
There are a great number of Americans who are just waking up to the understanding of what the Supreme Court did this past week by removing itself and all federal courts from hearing any dispute about how the states may or may not rig the election process.
The court didn’t argue that some state legislatures create boundaries for the purpose of using a citizen’s right to vote to favor one political party over another. But the justices took a dive when it held that the federal courts weren’t going to get involved when gerrymandering rendered that right to vote meaningless.
Whether you agree with the decision — I don’t — the fact remains that the law of the land now prohibits federal judges from getting involved when states gerrymander (drawing political boundary lines) their citizens’ constitutional right to vote right out of existence.
The great irony is that the justices who voted to bow the court out of performing its fundamental reason for being — to make sure the other two branches abide by the Constitution — are members of the same strict constructionist gang that is always screaming about what its obligations are under the Constitution. “If it isn’t in the document,” they argue,” then the right doesn’t exist.”
Well, the last time I read the Constitution I remember how it started. “We the people …”
That means this whole experiment in democracy is about the people consenting to be governed and how they go about doing that: by voting. So now comes the John Roberts court and withdraws the judiciary from determining whether that precious and fundamental right of the people to vote has been compromised.
Hypocrisy is alive and well at the Supreme Court.
So when the supremes take a duck, what is left for minorities of all kinds, most of whom live south of the Mason-Dixon Line (does any of this sound familiar?), to do in the face of legislatures hellbent on keeping white voting power disproportionately strong while weakening legitimate minority power bases — all in an effort to solidify Republican control over areas of the country that have been slipping away for decades.
I believe that if voters don’t like the way their legislatures are doing things — rendering their votes worthless while giving the illusion of democracy — they should use some self-help. One idea is to vote in numbers not heretofore seen in modern America. In other words, as much as the GOP wants to diminish Democratic voting by drawing phony boundary lines, the people hold the keys to our democracy in their own hands.
But this is more than just a political issue. This is a democratic imperative.
The truth is that there has been a movement for decades designed to marginalize the voting power of new immigrants, people who would be considered minorities and people in some parts of the country who are, let’s say, not white enough.
Gerrymandering — the art of drawing voting districts to advantage one party over the other — has been around and practiced by both parties practically forever. What is more recent, though, is the unbridled abuse of this political maneuvering to the point that it is endangering our democracy. Today’s version of the gerrymander cements the polarization of America by geography, by party and by a particular view of the world in which we live.
A polarized America is ugly and harmful — as we have started to experience — and will not endure.
What the Supreme Court did this past week on a 5-4 strictly partisan vote was to say all is fair in politics and don’t look to the court — the arbiter of what the Constitution allows and prohibits — to stand in your way.
It is difficult, although it shouldn’t be, for most people to understand the nuances of the political theater in which we are all playing a role. We work, we play, we are distracted and we don’t have time to pay attention to the nitty-gritty of everyday political life that we leave to others to do on our behalf. The result of our excuse-making for our own lack of interest is that those who are paying attention get to make the rules. All the rest of us get is the right to pay for what they do to us.
So here is where the timing comes in. It takes a long time to change the course and the attitude of the Supreme Court. But here we are, 60-plus years after desegregation of our public schools, 46 years after recognizing the privacy rights of women to make their own health care decisions, and six decades since the concept of one person, one vote was set in stone by the Supreme Court, and each of those understandings — a rule of law almost everyone living has understood to be the law— is under threat of being stood on its head.
Why? Because after many decades of presidents and Congresses changing the composition of the court — one justice at a time — there is finally a majority on the court that is willing, able and eager to undo decades of progress toward a more just society.
If you have lived long enough to be able to look back with an understanding of what life used to be like before the current Supreme Court rulings were decided, you would see that our country had been evolving slowly but surely into that more perfect union envisaged by our Founding Fathers.
You would also see the efforts of a minority of Americans who wish to turn back the clock on individual rights and freedoms to preserve some sense of control over the speed with which change has been occurring, bearing fruit.
It has taken many decades to get this Supreme Court loaded with judges who are part of the “turn back America to the ’50s” crowd. And it will take a good while to change it back. But change it must, because this country has worked too hard, fought too long and endured too much to have the progress of the past two centuries be for naught.
We have witnessed the Senate of the United States fail in its duty to the Constitution to provide a check and balance on a president run amok. We now have a Supreme Court shirking its responsibility to defend Americans against the oppression of the majority in direct contravention of the dictates of our Constitution. What happens next could depend on the level of engagement of Americans who now understand that this democracy is precious and it needs to be defended.
It pains me to even suggest that the Supreme Court of the United States has become subject to the whims of political expediency. It is supposed to protect us, not abandon us when our rights are being frittered away — or worse, taken away.
What made America the greatest country on earth was the idea that our government derived its power from the people, not the other way around. That power is exercised every four years through our votes.
If we want to change this course that President Donald Trump and his Supreme Court have charted for America, there is no time like the present to start. The presidential elections of 2020 are just around the corner and they can’t come soon enough.
Timing is everything. Our democracy is running out of it.
Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun