The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion It’s time to say it: The conservatives on the Supreme Court lied to us all

Then-President Donald Trump walks out with Amy Coney Barrett after announcing her nomination to the Supreme Court in September 2020. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

They lied.

Yes, I’m talking about the conservative justices on the Supreme Court, and the abortion rights those justices have now made clear they will eviscerate.

They weren’t just evasive, or vague, or deceptive. They lied. They lied to Congress and to the country, claiming they either had no opinions at all about abortion, or that their beliefs were simply irrelevant to how they would rule. They would be wise and pure, unsullied by crass policy preferences, offering impeccably objective readings of the Constitution.

It. Was. A. Lie.

We went through the same routine in the confirmation hearings of every one of those justices. When Democrats tried to get them to state plainly their views on Roe v. Wade, they took two approaches. Some tried to convince everyone that they would leave it untouched. Others, those already on record proclaiming opposition to abortion rights, suggested they had undergone a kind of intellectual factory reset enabling them to assess the question anew with an unspoiled mind, one concerned only with the law.

Unfortunately, that lie was and is still enabled by the news media. Even in the face of what we saw at the court on Wednesday — when at least five of the six conservatives made clear their intention to overturn Roe — press accounts continued offering euphemisms and weasel words, about “inconsistencies” or “contradictions.”

During oral arguments on Dec. 1, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh argued that the “other side” thinks the court should leave abortion rights to each state. (Video: The Washington Post)

But sometimes the right puts its purposes in the open. There was a particularly striking exchange between Laura Ingraham and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on Fox News, where Ingraham grew inexplicably enraged over the mere possibility that Roe might not be overturned.

Follow Paul Waldman's opinionsFollow

“If we have six Republican appointees on this court,” she said, "after all the money that’s been raised, the Federalist Society, all these big fat-cat dinners — I’m sorry, I’m pissed about this — if this court with six justices cannot do the right thing here,” then Republicans should “blow it up” and pass some kind of law limiting the court’s authority.

“I would do that in a heartbeat,” Cruz responded.

In other words: We bought this court, and we’d better get what we paid for.

The Opinions Essay | The Rule of Six: A newly radicalized Supreme Court is poised to reshape the nation

Like his Republican colleagues, that same Ted Cruz repeatedly insisted at confirmation hearings that the very idea that a Republican appointee might have a political agenda was deeply offensive to whatever fine nominee was before them. So let’s review what those justices — now treating women’s bodily autonomy with such naked contempt — had to say during their confirmation hearings.

The newest justice, Amy Coney Barrett, was already on record stating that abortion is a moral evil. But in her hearing, she insisted, “I don’t have any agenda.” Asked by a Republican senator whether it would be possible to predict how she might rule on subjects like abortion, Barrett responded: “It’s not possible.”

“I’d be kind of like a legal pundit," she said. "I don’t think anyone wants judges to function that way.”

That must be why Republicans were so desperate to get her on the court and so rapturous with joy when she was confirmed: Because they had no idea how she might rule!

Then there’s Brett M. Kavanaugh, who insisted in his hearing that Roe was “settled as a precedent,” because “it has been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) emerged from a meeting with Kavanaugh and said he’d assured her that Roe is “settled law." She gave him her vote.

Neil M. Gorsuch was as pure of mind as the others. Asked whether the Constitution protects intimate personal decisions on subjects like abortion and marriage, he said, “I have never expressed personal views as a judge on this subject, and that is because my personal views do not matter.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. insisted that as a justice he would merely locate the objectively right decision in all cases, calling “balls and strikes” without concern for any preferences of his own. Asked if Roe was settled law, he replied, “It is settled as a precedent of the Court, yes.”

David Von Drehle: What the conservative arguments against abortion get all wrong

Confronted at his hearing with a previous written statement that the Constitution does not protect the right to abortion, Samuel A. Alito Jr. vowed that as a judge, he would “put aside” the opinions he had as a lawyer and "think about legal issues the way a judge thinks about legal issues.”

Taking the cake was Clarence Thomas, who swore he had never had a conversation about Roe. He answered a Senator’s question by declaring, “Your question to me was ... do I have this day an opinion, a personal opinion on the outcome in Roe v. Wade; and my answer to you is that I do not.”

No one on either side of the issue believed him for a moment.

It was all a lie, a scam, a con: the assurances that they were blank slates committed to “originalism” and “textualism,” that they wouldn’t “legislate from the bench,” that they have no agenda but merely a “judicial philosophy.”

Somehow that philosophy nearly always produces results conservatives want: undermining voting rights, enhancing corporate power, constraining the rights of workers, enabling the proliferation of guns, and now most vividly, allowing state governments to force women to carry pregnancies to term against their will.

From this day forward, no one should be naive enough to believe a word any conservative says on this subject, except for those few who forthrightly proclaim that the Supreme Court must read right-wing policy preferences into the Constitution. There was never any mystery about who these justices are and what they would do. There were only liars saying otherwise, and fools who chose to believe them.