No Appointment Can Bring Democracy to the Supreme Court

by B. W. Sculos

This article was originally published in Socialism Today, the paper of the Independent Socialist Group. Subscribe to the paper to receive each issue in print and read the articles before they’re published online!

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer recently announced his resignation from the Court, but no matter who replaces him, it won’t change the anti-working-class character of the Supreme Court.

Socialists should be deeply skeptical of the benefit to workers of Biden’s promise to nominate the first Black woman to the High Court. The only Black justice currently sitting on the Court is also its most conservative one. Clarence Thomas has always been aggressively anti-Black, anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-worker, and anti-poor. Yet, many Democrats voted for his nomination. Donald Trump’s final appointment to the Court, Amy Coney Barrett, a woman, is nearly as conservative as Thomas. She’s a fierce opponent of women’s rights, particularly the right to abortion and reproductive health care. Democrats did nothing to stop her appointment.

Socialists should have zero faith in the Democrats when it comes to the Supreme Court and the major issues it rules on, such as abortion rights, labor protections, and civil liberties. With multiple opportunities in the past decade-plus with majorities in Congress and control of the White House, Democrats have failed to pass legislative protections for these rights—in fact, they haven’t really tried.

The Supreme Court was designed and continues to function to serve two related purposes in our society. First, the Court keeps power out of the hands of the vast majority of people. We don’t decide what the laws mean, nine unelected justices do. Second, the Court defends the interests of the wealthy and corporations, regardless of who the nine individual justices are.

But as socialists and working-class people, we can still engage with the politics of the Court. In fact, most of the major expansions of rights in US history that have seemingly come from the Court (civil rights, reproductive rights, gay marriage, etc.) only came after decades of movements demanding these rights. Socialists and working-class activists can influence courts at all levels, whether it is defending the rights of BLM protesters in cities, like ISG did in Worcester with the successful “Drop the Charges” campaign (see our article “One Year Ago: Victory Against Racist Police Repression in Worcester” in issue #2), or organizing against a particular nominee or in support of a particular decision.

There is no place for an anti-democratic, anti-working class institution like the Supreme Court in a socialist world, but we can and should find productive ways to engage and challenge the Court’s power today (read Supreme Court Refuses to Challenge Texas Abortion Ban—Build a Socialist Fightback!).

Image credit: New York National Guard via Flickr // CC-BY 2.0