This past week, the Supreme Court decided that undocumented immigrants don’t have the same fundamental rights as American citizens. That’s essentially what their decision in Jennings v. Rodriguez amounts to. People who cross into the country can be detained indefinitely, as they have been under the last four administrations, as per a narrow majority on the Court. (The opinion was written by George W. Bush appointee Samuel Alito.) It was a 5 to 3 decision, with Justice Kagan recusing herself, so for me the lesson of this – and other cases – is that elections matter and that people on the center-left need to start voting on the issue of the Supreme Court and who will garner a lifetime appointment to that august body.
If Hillary Clinton had been elected president, she would have appointed someone relatively progressive to the Supreme Court to fill the seat currently held by Neil Gorsuch (illegitimately, in my view). That would likely have rendered a 4 to 4 split in the Rodriguez case, which would have allowed the lower court ruling in Rodriguez’s favor stand. This case makes a material difference in the lives of thousands upon thousands of human beings – individuals and families making the dangerous crossing into this country, seeking a marginally better existence than what they face back home.
This is not the only instance – there will be many more. The Friedrichs case in 2016 was another prime example of why we can’t sit on our hands, waiting for the perfect candidate. That was another 4 to 4 tie, allowing the lower court decision to stand, this time in favor of allowing unions to collect agency fees from non-member employees. Janus v. AFSCME, which is now before the court, addresses this same issue, and as a result of Trump’s election and appointment of Gorsuch, it is likely to go against the unions. That will likely commence a death spiral for public sector unions, undermining the last vestige of organized labor strength in this country. That’s a disaster for workers, and it’s effing because people couldn’t bring themselves to vote for someone they didn’t like (Clinton) in 2016 in order to save the effing Supreme Court.
It gets worse. Justice Kennedy is likely to step down before the end of Trump’s term. That likely means a permanent reactionary majority on the Court for decades to come. That said, it’s never too late to learn. So people: whatever else you do politically, vote to make a difference, not to express your identity. Push the Democratic party in a progressive direction through action, internal pressure, and primary campaigns, but do not forget what’s at stake when the general election arrives. Lives literally hang in the balance.