During every Presidential campaign, I can remember being told, “This election is really about the Supreme Court!” No matter how I felt about the candidates, the argument went, the President nominates Supreme Court justices, and decisions made by the Court affect the nation—for good or ill—for decades. Given the damage the current Court has wrought on our electoral system and the fact that four—four! —seats could become vacant during the next Presidency, the argument now seems far more persuasive than in the past.
Even though a Democrat has occupied the White House for eight years, the Democratic Party has been battered at the polls over the past decade. “The vast majority” of state legislatures, governors, attorneys general and secretaries of state “are in Republicans’ hands,” journalist Matthew Yglesias observed in a recent Vox.com article headlined “Democrats are in denial. Their party is actually in deep trouble.” He noted that “Republicans control both chambers of Congress” and that—thanks in no small part to partisan gerrymandering, the destruction of campaign-finance laws and new voter-suppression schemes by GOP-controlled states—“Republicans are confident they won’t lose power” in the House any time soon.
Yglesias also pointed out that Democrats, whose focus is on the White House, “aren’t even talking about how to improve on their weak points, because by and large they don’t even admit that they exist.” Meanwhile, right-wingers continue to radically restructure state government to cripple unions, further restrict women’s rights, decimate popular social programs and—even worse—modify election laws to make it much more difficult for voters to vote them out.
Ian Millhiser, author of Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted, believes that the upcoming elections won’t just impact the Legislative and Executive branches of government: “The winner of 2016’s Presidential election is likely to play an unusually large role in shaping the membership of the Supreme Court,” Millhiser told me. “And the Democratic Party’s best road to relevance in highly gerrymandered states begins with changing the makeup of the nation’s highest Court.”