Ann McFeatters: What to expect from a Trump-packed Supreme Court

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Supporters of the Affordable Care Act rally at the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25, 2015, in Washington, D.C. - Bill Putnam/Zuma Press/TNS

For almost everyone in America, life has changed this year. It’s about to change much more.

The federal government that resides in our nation’s capital has a (well-deserved) reputation for inefficiency, profligacy and turgid responses to emergencies.

But the upcoming change in the Supreme Court, coupled with immense changes in how federal agencies have been altered in the last four years, will affect the lives of most Americans in ways they might not have considered. The likelihood of many more 6 to 3 decisions, with conservatives firmly in control, has far-reaching ramifications for almost every aspect of life.

A majority of Americans want gun control, environmental protection, civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, worker protections and fair, affordable health insurance.

Here’s what a Trump-packed Supreme Court will provide:

Guns will be more prevalent and easier to buy and carry. The Supreme Court already signaled its interpretation that unless Congress acts to restrict guns, the Second Amendment means Americans have the right to possess guns for individual use, not just as part of armed militias.

The Court already has ruled that gun ownership cannot be restricted in school zones or denied for the mentally ill. One possible step for a court without Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a reinterpretation permitting felons deemed not dangerous to own guns. The Court now also is likely to uphold the current practice of private ownership of assault weapons.

Health insurance as it has evolved under the Affordable Care Act is under attack by the administration and will be decided by the Supreme Court next year. If it is ruled unconstitutional, as many conservatives hope and expect, preexisting conditions would no longer be required to be covered. That means millions of Americans who have underlying health issues conditions, including having had COVID-19, will have difficulty getting health insurance.

Women will find contraception more expensive and access to abortion more difficult. All the leading candidates for the Ginsburg seat were solidly against any accommodations for abortion and many want to flat-out overturn the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. The Court already has ruled that employers who oppose abortion or contraception do not have to provide such coverage in health insurance for women employees.

Voting suppression will become more common. The Supreme Court recently weakened the Voting Rights Act, with the majority arguing that voters no longer need its protections. Conservatives on the high court are in favor of making it tougher to vote, not easier. For example, anyone convicted of a felony in Florida now may not vote if they owe money to any court.

Civil rights laws are under attack and will be harder to uphold. The United States, ironically, is now more segregated than ever because of housing. And one constant goal of many conservatives has been to undo the unanimous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that ruled racial discrimination in public schools is unconstitutional, overturning the doctrine of separate but equal schools. Fair housing laws also are under attack.

Worker protections are being chipped away by the Court, a trend likely to accelerate. A multitude of recent decisions has given more power to employers on such issues as worker safety, bargaining rights and salaries. The Supreme Court ruled in the Lily Ledbetter case that a woman deliberately paid less than men for doing the same job did not have a right to redress because more than 180 days had passed between from when she received her paycheck and when she filed a claim. Congress changed that in 2009.

Water and air will get dirtier. Under a conservative, pro-industry Court and with federal agencies curtailing efforts for cleaner air and water and with climate change denials holding sway, the outlook is grim for environmental protection. The conservative-majority high court already provided a huge blow to the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to restrict toxic air pollutants, deciding that the Obama administration did not take into sufficient account the costs to power plants and industrial factories.

The Supreme Court was set up as an independent and equal third branch of government. But as the country has become polarized, the Court, too has been politicized as more justices have made their views known before ascending to the highest bench and are nominated for those views rather than judicial impartiality.

Although Republicans refused to let Barack Obama’s nominee have a vote nine months before a presidential election, now they are determined openly and hypocritically to decide Donald Trump’s nominee should be confirmed just before or after a much more imminent election.

The result will be the tyranny of the minority.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at amcfeatters@nationalpress.com.

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