Judicial system and democratic rights at stake in 2014 elections

“I assure you in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against (the Obama administration) by placing riders in the bill,” declared Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “We’re going to go after (the Affordable Care Act), (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board.” McConnell was pledging unprecedented obstruction to a gathering of right-wing powerbrokers hosted by the billionaire Koch brothers if Republicans win control of the U.S. Senate Nov. 4.

The obstruction will extend to confirmation of judicial nominations by President Obama who has quietly begun reversing right-wing domination of the federal court system. This accelerated after the Democratic majority in the Senate changed rules to overcome Republican obstruction of the confirmation process.

That progress may come to a halt. “A total of 155 nominations for the executive and judicial branches are pending on the Senate floor, and there’s nowhere near enough time to confirm them all before the next Congress is sworn in. There are 50 vacancies on district courts and 7 vacancies in appeals courts,” reported Talking Points Memo.

The election outcome will impact the court system’s attitude toward worker and other democratic rights, including coordinated voter suppression efforts. This was apparent in the ruling against the Texas voter suppression law written by an Obama appointee, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos.

Gonzales Ramos’ ruling says the law “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose,” as reported in the People’s World.

On the other hand, the right-wing dominated Supreme Court’s refusal to strike down the North Carolina voter suppression law could determine the outcome of the Senate race there.

“Tens of thousands of North Carolina voters, especially African American voters, have relied on same-day registration, as well as the counting of ballots that were cast out of precinct, for years,” notes the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, leader of the Moral Monday movement.

The judicial system is an arena of fierce class and democratic struggle. For years, Republicans have concentrated on stacking the courts with right-wing extremists. Presidents Reagan, Bush I and Bush II understood clearly what they couldn’t win legislatively, they could judicially. Those appointed were Republican operatives in judicial robes.

“There were always politics in court appointments and in the functioning of the judiciary,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the Judiciary Committee told the New York Times. “But the rawness and the starkness of the political clashes in the courts has highlighted the need to have people there that are of an ideological like mind.”

Republican judges sought to impose the right-wing agenda, including undoing the achievements of the New Deal, Civil Right revolution and rulings of the US Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren. The result is a steady erosion of democratic rights including affirmative action, voting and privacy rights, due process, equal protection, gun control, reproductive rights, etc. One of the few exceptions is the recognition of arriage equality, a concession to the vast shift in public opinion.

As Michelle Alexander argues in her landmark book, “The New Jim Crow,” U.S. Supreme Courts led by Chief Justices William Rehnquist and John Roberts have constructed a legal bulwark around right-wing legislation legalizing discrimination, racial profiling, loss of voting rights, the right to serve on juries, discrimination in employment, housing and access to public benefits. African Americans have been legally designated as second class citizens.

“The Supreme Court has now closed the courthouse doors to claims of racial bias at every stage of the criminal justice process, from stops and searches to plea bargaining and sentencing. The system of mass incarceration is now, for all practical purposes, thoroughly immunized from claims of racial bias,” says Alexander.

The Supreme Court expanded corporate rights through the Citizens United ruling and weakened labor law protections. This was mirrored in lower court rulings when the then right-wing dominated United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit barred Pres. Obama from making recess appointments to the NLRB, appointments he had made to bypass Republican obstruction. The DC Circuit is now majority Democratic appointees.

Basic democratic rights are at stake Nov. 4 if Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate and expand their domination of governorships and state houses. Massive voter turnout is essential to blunt the danger of right-wing extremism.

John Bachtell is the national chair of the CPUSA.

Photo: Rev. William Barber addresses crowd outside the state legislature in Raleigh, N.C. He slammed GOP policies that restrict voting rights, weaken labor organizing rights, destroy public education and harm the poor and jobless. Gerry Broome/AP


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.