January 21, 2022

SCOTUS Reform Key to Protecting Constitutional Rights

Russ Feingold President

Russ Feingold
ACS President Russ Feingold

This was a tough week for everyone working on voting rights. But let’s be clear, the results of this week do not represent the end of this work. I speak from experience when I say that legislating is, more often than not, a test of endurance. The McCain-Feingold legislation was declared dead by commentators so many times that I lost count – and the resulting laws are still being litigated. Each defeat was disheartening, but we also knew that each defeat was temporary. Like then, the hours, the phone calls, the op-eds, all of the work put in this week was not for nil. It is a down payment on what comes next.

As we take stock of where we are at and adjust strategy and talking points, I want to encourage us all to think of the effort to strengthen voting rights and the effort to reform the Supreme Court as two sides of the same coin. The voting rights crisis in this country is happening not in spite of, but because of the Supreme Court. If we do not reform the Court, any federal voting rights legislation risks being eroded or struck down by the same Court that decimated the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and opened the floodgates to dark money in our elections 12 years ago today in Citizens United.

Jonathan Diaz does an excellent job in his article for ACS’s Expert Forum blog making the case for federal voting rights legislation by highlighting the damage wrought by the Supreme Court in such decisions as Shelby County v. Holder and Brnovich v. DNC. As he notes:

Almost immediately following the Shelby County decision, several states (predictably) enacted restrictive and discriminatory measures, including restricting opportunities for voter validation, closing polling places and deleting voters from state voter rolls. There have also been cutbacks to early voting periods and restrictions on the right of civic groups to assist citizens in participating fully in the democratic process.

And just this week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that could further cripple campaign finance reform in this country. The work never ends, particularly when we have a packed Supreme Court so aggressively pursuing a partisan agenda.

The same dynamic is at play for reproductive freedom. As we celebrate the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade tomorrow, it’s hard not to look ahead to the Supreme Court’s expected reversal of Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org. Already, the Court has allowed Texas to deny pregnant people their constitutionally protected right to abortion care for months, and twelve states have laws on the books that would ban abortion in the event that Roe is overturned. This week, the Court once again failed to protect Texans’ constitutional rights, allowing the state to continue to manipulate the rule of law through procedural shenanigans. Quite simply, we are likely on the brink of losing a constitutional right because of this Supreme Court. We have to think of the effort to protect abortion access and the effort to reform the Supreme Court as part of the same conversation.

As we continue the work to advocate for stronger voting rights and to protect abortion access, I encourage you to keep Supreme Court reform in the conversation. We can’t address the voting rights or reproductive rights crisis in this country by working in silos. These issues depend upon each other. If we are to have a meaningful right to vote in this country, if we are to protect the constitutional right to reproductive freedom, we must reform the Supreme Court by redressing the Right’s packing and by restoring the Court’s credibility.