2017-04-12 / Opinion

Back to the Future


Jackie Sartoris Jackie Sartoris I don’t own a poodle skirt — Fat Boy is the nearest I’ve come to a sock hop. At school we stood for the Pledge but never stooped for “duck and cover.” Yet I’m gearing up for the return of the ’50s now that our Senate, fully backed by Republican Sen. Susan Collins, finished what it started on Feb. 13, 2016.

Over a year ago, Republicans led by Mitch McConnell invented a new standard to deny President Obama the right to appoint a Supreme Court Justice to the seat unexpectedly left by Justice Antonin Scalia: “No advice and consent process for appointments to the Supreme Court during an election year.”

Unlike so many other times during the Obama presidency, this was not simply unprecedented, disdainful obstruction. It’s true that Politifact awarded the Republican claim, made by Mark Rubio among others, “False.” But once this gambit was rewarded by the unprecedented election of a uniquely unpopular President, it became clear that the ascension of an extreme, activist ideologue to swing our highest Court was always the long game.

Why the fuss about new Justice Gorsuch, who seemed so very, very affable during his confirmation hearings? Isn’t he just filling a conservative seat? No. Supreme Court chairs don’t have little placeholders on them. There is no “Scalia seat.” Rightly, it was President Obama’s seat to fill, and rightly, this would have swung the Court closer to where most Americans are: towards greater tolerance of our nation’s differences, and more supportive of the needs of the individual to be protected from corporate power. Instead, sharp-elbowed scheming plus a questionable election tinged with collusion, combined with a dose of extremism to hand-pick Gorsuch. The results are impossible to exaggerate.

With just 10 years as a judge, Gorsuch’s decisions show that he is not simply capable of generously filling “Scalia’s seat.” He appears to be ready to tip that seat as far to the right as it will go. Finding the limits of corporate power in Gorsuch’s decisions is like “Where’s Waldo?” without Waldo. Are corporations people? Yes! Should there be limits to campaign expenditures by these ersatz “persons?” No! And can these corporate “persons” trump your rights to health and safety? The infamous “frozen trucker” case tells us that for Gorsuch, business rights are human rights, human rights are business rights, once and for all. At a time when we experience a chasm between the haves and the havenots, when corporations can drag you off an airplane at their whim, we all know that it is not corporations that need more protecting.

And speaking of women, the new Justice thinks women’s rights are specifically subordinate to these brave new “persons.” In the Gorsuchesque view, businesses not only have unlimited free speech rights, including unlimited spending, they’ve also got religious freedom. Gorsuch grants these corporate persons the ability to deny female employees access to specific reproductive care through their employer-sponsored health insurance. The language he employed in the Hobby Lobby case is nothing short of ominous. “All of us face the problem of complicity. All of us must answer for ourselves whether and to what degree we are willing to be involved in the wrongdoing of others.”

For Gorsuch, corporate persons can decide that some forms of contraception are “wrongdoing.” Sixty-two percent of women of reproductive age use some form of birth control. Their choice of which to use is made either over the counter or with their doctors. Hobby Lobby says women’s freedoms count less than those of their employers. But don’t worry, men: you can still access Viagra and vasectomies.

This extremism explains why the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation chose Gorsuch, and why 17 million in “dark money” — untraceable funds — went into defeating Obama’s candidate and supporting him.

And this explains why I, and dozens of other Maine attorneys, signed a statement asking our Senators to oppose Gorsuch’s appointment. While Sen. King clearly shared many of these concerns, issuing a measured, researched statement, Sen. Collins voted in lock step with the extremists in her party, making a mockery of her oftstated regard for precedent in overturning the filibuster.

Prior to her vote, I called her office to make sure she’d seen the attorney letter, which went to a general inbox. The man who answered helpfully gave me a little foreshadowing: “The thing to do,” he condescended, “is to have one of the attorneys call.”

We’ll have decades to experience the fruits of our stolen Court. Meantime, I’m torn between stitching up a poodle skirt or knitting a demure ’30s-style sweater set. After all, given Gorsuch’s affection for corporate power combined with his activist’s zeal to restrict women’s reproductive freedoms, a return to the days of Hoovervilles and caravans can’t be far behind.

Jackie Sartoris is a former Town Councilor in Brunswick — and an attorney.

Return to top