Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes / Flickr
When ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016, many on the left and center heaved a huge sigh of relief. Barack Obama was the sitting president who would be nominating his successor, perhaps bringing us a liberal dominated court and killing the constant threats of overturning Roe v. Wade for some time. But that comforting thought slowly morphed into an exasperated burst of heartburn once it became clear that the Grand Obstructionist Party was going to block any of Obama’s choices for Supreme Court, however qualified and moderate she or he might be.
Judge Merrick Garland, a moderate with an outstanding record, went up in smoke faster than a government spending bill. And this mild skin irritation soon became full-blown skin cancer once Donald Trump was elected president with a Republican-controlled Congress. What we got was Neil Gorsuch. While it’s still too early to gauge how Gorsuch will lean, it’s painfully obvious that he’ll be on the side of corporate America.
So now that we have a 5-4 right-wing Supreme Court, it might be interesting to go over some of the absolute worst conservative Supreme Court rulings.
1. Bush v. Gore (2000)
Many progressives still love to engage in utopian dreams when they imagine what life would be like had Al Gore been declared the rightful winner of the 2000 presidential election, all while wringing our hands and bellowing out “Nader,” like Captain Kirk. But the fact remains that the 5-4 conservative Supreme Court decision that handed George W. Bush the White House will go down as one of the worst conservative Supreme Court declensions. In fact, retired SCOTUS Justice Sandra Day O’Connor would later deeply regret the decision.
2. Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker (2008)
If you’re looking to punish corporate America, you should probably ignore this case. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, one of the single biggest environmental disasters, and following years of court battles, Exxon was finally held responsible for its grossly negligent captain and hit with $5 billion in damages. Roberts’ Supreme Court ruled that Exxon couldn’t be subject to punitive damages in excess of compensatory ones, dropping total damages down to $500 million. Let’s break it down: not only did the big oil company evade billions in damages, the Supreme Court’s ruling basically increased the value of its stock by $23 billion in two days. Not a bad day for the suits.
3. Shelby County v. Holder (2013)
In a sickening display of voter suppression, the Roberts Supreme Court ruled to reverse a major part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 when they legally granted a series of illegal voter suppression actions. The decision couldn’t be any more anti-democratic, as it led to Texas enforcing voter ID and ensuring that the state’s redistricting maps would no longer need federal approval.
4. Connick v. Thompson (2011)
In the case of Connick v. Thompson, John Thompson, an innocent man who languished in prison for nearly 18 years, was given no justice after Clarence Thomas argued that the prosecutor’s office of Maryland could not be held accountable for a willful rights violation. The court was trying to decide whether the prosecutor’s office could be held liable for a single Brady violation by one of its members on the theory that the office provided inadequate training. Consequently, this means that innocent people are more likely be sent to prison.
5. Citizens United v. FEC (2010)
In the cringe-worthy case that spawned the phrase “corporations are people, too,” Roberts’ conservative court put the final nail in democracy’s coffin when it ruled that corporate political spending is a form of free speech. This opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending in the form of super PACs, which allow corporations to avoid campaign finance laws. This created partisan front groups such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and former Republican Rep. Dick Armey’s ultra-conservative Freedom Works, which would instigate and finance the Tea Party movement.
These are just a sampling of conservative Supreme Court decision that will be felt for years to come. With Neil Gorsuch making the court officially conservative, we can expect more Citizens United-style decisions.