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No rights Sam Alito was bound to respect


Adam Serwer is outstanding on the nature and implications of Alito’s opinion:

The draft, written by Justice Samuel Alito, is sweeping and radical. There is no need to dwell too long on its legal logic; there are no magic words that the authors of prior opinions might have used in their own decisions that could have preserved the right to an abortion in the face of a decisive right-wing majority on the Court. The opinion itself reads like a fancy press release from a particularly loyal member of the GOP Senate caucus. Alito’s writing reflects the current tone of right-wing discourse: grandiose and contemptuous, disingenuous and self-contradictory, with the necessary undertone of self-pity as justification. Alito, like the five other conservative justices, was placed on the Court by the conservative legal movement for the purpose of someday handing down this decision. These justices are doing what they were put there to do.

As we discussed on the emergency pod, while Alito has always been the most evil justice there was a time when he could also be counted on to give the most convincing possible defense (or most hard-to-penetrate obfuscation) of whatever reactionary outcome he was determined to reach. But his brain has been Fox News’d into banana pudding and of course his Federalist Society Affirmative Action clerks have been mainlining this stuff from the cradle.

Aside from rights specifically mentioned in the text of the Constitution, Alito argues, only those rights “deeply rooted in the nation’s history in tradition” deserve its protections. This is as arbitrary as it is lawless. Alito is saying there is no freedom from state coercion that conservatives cannot strip away if conservatives find that freedom personally distasteful. The rights of heterosexual married couples to obtain contraception, or of LGBTQ people to be free from discrimination, are obvious targets. But other rights that Americans now take for granted could easily be excluded by this capricious reasoning.

“In a series of cases beginning in the early 1920s, the Court carved out a protected space for family, marriage, and children that the government is constrained from regulating,” Kimberly Wehle wrote last December. “A rollback of Roe could split this sphere open if the conservative theory that implied rights are constitutionally invalid takes hold, and states begin passing draconian laws that creep into other areas of intimate personal life.”

The right-wing majority’s radical repurposing of the so-called shadow docket to set precedents and nullify constitutional rights rather than simply deal with time-sensitive matters foreshadowed this outcome. In the Court’s religious-freedom decisions related to the coronavirus pandemic, and in its choice last year to allow Texas to nullify the right to an abortion, you can see the outlines of this new legal regime: On the grounds that it constitutes a form of religious discrimination, conservatives will be able to claim an exemption from any generally applicable rule they do not wish to follow, while imposing their own religious and ideological views on those who do not share them. Although the right-wing justices present this rule in the language of constitutionalism, they are simply imposing their ideological and cultural preferences on the rest of the country. Roe itself left those opposed to abortion free not to have one; striking it down allows states to prevent those seeking abortions from obtaining them.

If one takes the logic of Alito’s opinion seriously, not only were all the LGBTQ+ and privacy landmarks wrongly decided, so were Loving, Brown, all of the gender equality cases, Powell v. Alabama, and so on and so on. By definition, the rights of marginalized people that have been systematically violated are not going to be “deeply rooted in the nation’s tradition.” His attempts to tie Roe to Dred Scott notwithstanding, it’s Roger Taney’s theory of citizenship all the way down.

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