Schwab: Court averts gaze as GOP gerrymanders way to control

Justice Roberts says he calls ‘balls and strikes,’ but the umpire blinds himself to the naked power grab.

By Sid Schwab

Herald columnist

When the other party has the better hammer, what you do is steal all the nails.

Credit Republicans: They play the long game. Realizing they could no longer enact their policies legitimately, because they create massive deficits, are unpopular with and/or do harm to non-wealthy, air-breathing, water-drinking, homeothermic, empathetic Americans, they set about preventing the majority from having electoral influence. Fair elections, and democracy itself, they came to understand, were inimical to their aims. This insight underlies everything they’ve done since, at the state level and nationally.

It’s working. And, though it’s been evident for years, Democrats’ legendary inability to formulate a coherent message, and their penchant for shooting at the wrong targets, including each other, all but guaranteed Republicans’ success. Days ago, by a predictable 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court chose to allow egregious gerrymandering by Republican-led state legislatures around the country, bringing the plan to fruition.

Already enfeebled by prior 5-4 decisions, namely Citizens United and eviscerating the Voting Rights Act, democracy died that day; poisoned by people who figured they had plenty of time to pull it off, people who renounced what makes America great. Now firmly entrenched is rule by a minority determined to enrich the wealthy and do the bidding of polluters and other miscreants, disregarding the needs of most voters, in return for cash.

A 5-4 court decision is a political one, by definition. The concept of dispassionate interpretation of the law, or, as John Roberts described it in his bravura nomination performance, “calling balls and strikes,” is fiction. Every Republican jurist has been selected with the endgame in mind.

As they welcomed the contributions of Reagan’s hitman Lee Atwater, then Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove and Roger Ailes, the Republican Party began abandoning democracy. Their goal: prevent the majority voice from being heard by whatever means necessary; when it can’t be done subtly, don’t bother pretending. Witness refusing to allow even a hearing for President Obama’s choice of a universally respected, highly qualified nominee to the Supreme Court. Witness our Republican neighbors to the south, going into hiding to prevent a vote on a climate-change bill favored by a large majority of Oregonians (and threatening harm to state cops sent after them). Witness Mitch McConnell.

Republicans may not have imagined, all those years ago, help from a global adversary in placing a “president” in office, but they’ll take it. To prove the point, demonstrating his disinterest in preserving our democratic republic, McConnell, an unashamed hypocrite more ruinous than Trump, refused to allow consideration of a bill passed by House Democrats aimed at preventing future foreign influence, and at securing voting machines. He’s done the same to all Democratic legislation, including those that would actually “drain the swamp.” Then taunts Democrats for accomplishing nothing.

Elected Republicans are undermining every protection of ordinary citizens’ ability to influence public policy: truth, education, voting, journalism. Understanding tribalism and the gullibility it engenders, they demonize immigrants, LGBT and Americans of color. And, of course, liberals, making America’s founding genius, legislative compromise, anathema. How can you compromise with people who’d “destroy you”?

To cement their perversion of original intent, Republicans established an unscrupulous propaganda network. Now, the internet affords even greater opportunities for fake news while claiming it’s the other side spreading it. Into this septic stream they dumped the lie that illegal voting was rampant, justifying laws crafted specifically to disenfranchise potential Democratic voters. They’ve admitted their purpose — bragged about it — even as the premise was proved false. Having thus empowered themselves, they’ve taken gerrymandering to unprecedented levels, rendering Democratic voters powerless; sometimes, even, when they were in the majority.

Fulfilling the promise of his appointment, Chief Justice Roberts says it’s none of the court’s business. Really? If this isn’t, what is? America has a cherished tradition of states’ rights, but a crucial role of the federal judiciary is stepping in when states disregard constitutionally guaranteed rights of their citizens. Protecting equality of voting, you’d think, would be among the obligations of our highest court. Turns out, it’s not. 5-4.

What would Honest Abe, between whose knees, on July 4, Trump produced a taxpayer-funded, campaign-ad-ready affair (the ad is already in circulation), think of what’s become of his party? Stolen court; dark money; voter suppression; cynical gerrymandering; presidential lies; devalued education; rejected science; politicizing the census; ignoring checks and balances. Game over. And Republicans are dancing in the endzone.

Email Sid Schwab at

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