Editorials, Opinion

SCOTUS on a roll

The U.S. Supreme Court is on a roll — crushing rights and smashing precedents as it goes.

We understood this wave of potentially bad decisions was coming — the nation’s highest court usually saves its biggest, most controversial rulings for the end of its session. But one can only do so much to brace against a tsunami, especially with four more decisions yet to come.

The biggest one, of course, was the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health that overruled Roe v. Wade on Friday. Also thrown into the mix last week were the rulings to force Maine’s K-12 tuition-assistance program   to pay for religious private schools, which we’ve already addressed; and an unwarranted expansion of gun “rights,” which we address today. This week, the Supreme Court decided government employees have the “right” to practice their religion wherever and whenever they please, in violation of the separation of church and state and in opposition to decades of precedent.

The gun case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, was a contention over a 100-year-old New York law that requires individuals to prove “proper cause” — a “special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community” —  to receive a public carry permit. Currently, New York issues permits to have weapons in the home for self-defense (in line with the 2008 Supreme Court decision in D.C. v. Heller) and for “restricted use,” such as target practice, hunting and employment. But that wasn’t good enough for plaintiffs, who wanted unrestricted carry licenses. That’s how we now face a court-guaranteed right to carry guns in public.

In the court’s majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas writes, “Nothing in the Second Amendment’s text draws a home/public distinction with respect to the right to keep and bear arms, and the definition of ‘bear’ naturally encompasses public carry.”

Previously, gun rights cases where decided on two factors: “a test rooted in the Second Amendment’s text, as informed by history” and “means-end scrutiny,” or whether a restriction is justified based on the understanding that the right to own guns is limited to protection in the home. Thomas throws the two-step framework out and declares the only thing that should be considered are the Second Amendment’s text, bolstered by the Fourteenth Amendment (note the irony), and whether the restrictive law is based in history. Then he adds that guns are allowed virtually anywhere. He leaves no room for considering the consequences of permissive gun laws.

In Monday’s decision, the court ruled in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District that a Washington high school football coach was within his rights to pray at the 50-yard line after the game despite the fact he was a public (technically a government) employee on public school (technically government-owned) property, still in his capacity as a school employee and in view of the community.

Only this Supreme Court, with its religious ideologues, would look at that situation and say the coach’s conduct doesn’t violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …”). Instead, this court determined the school district, in trying not to run afoul of the Establishment Clause by seeming to endorse a specific religion, had instead violated the coach’s rights under the Free Exercise Clause.

An infuriating decision for sure, but this extremist court has already signaled that it’s more than happy to dissemble the wall of separation between church and state, whether that be by putting individual religious preferences first, diverting public funds to religious activities or forcing one group’s religious moral code on half the country.