The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion It’s not a court. It’s a junta.

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 27 in Washington. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
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This isn’t your country anymore. You are now governed by a secretive and unaccountable junta in long black robes, and there are going to be some changes around here.

Our de facto rulers are Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. usually joining in. Be sure to remember their names, because they are now large and in charge — and because they envision a United States far different from the nation we’re accustomed to.

I describe them with a term more commonly used for Latin American military regimes because, well, that’s what it feels like.

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They want a country where women, once again, are at best second-class citizens. Their decision Friday to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that protected the constitutional right to abortion means that women, unlike men, no longer have dominion over their own bodies.

They want a country where every pregnancy, wanted or unwanted, is carried to full term. They want women who seek terminations, and the doctors or nurses or friends or Uber drivers who help them in any way, to potentially be subject to criminal charges or civil lawsuits.

This means an America with fewer women in the workforce and more at home doing child-rearing. It means more child poverty, with families forced to bring into the world children whom they cannot afford to support. It means that girls who have been told their horizons are unlimited must now be disabused of that dangerous idea and regrettably informed that first and foremost they are baby-making machines.

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In another decision last week, the junta declared that states can no longer require that citizens have some good reason to be allowed to carry concealed firearms in public. Our rulers want a country in which guns are everywhere — and the victims of those guns are seen as the price to be paid for a warped idea of “freedom.”

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An America that already has astronomically high levels of gun violence can probably look forward to even more homicides, more suicides, more accidental gun deaths. Yes, this sounds insane. I never said our new rulers were sane.

The junta does not believe the nation’s founders were serious about the separation of church and state. A ruling Monday found that it was fine for a football coach at a public high school to lead his team in prayer at midfield after games; a decision last week decreed that if states give grants of public money for students to attend private schools, religious schools must also be eligible for those funds.

Let’s be honest: Our rulers don’t come out and say so, but obviously they see this as a Christian nation, not a secular one. We once believed that non-Christians had the right not to have Christianity imposed on them in the public sphere. That was then; this is now.

Previous Supreme Court majorities have expanded the rights and opportunities of the marginalized — women, of course, but also racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ citizens, the disabled. The junta clearly sees these rights as suspect. Our black-robed rulers will in the future be asked to vote up or down on affirmative action, same-sex marriage and other questions that involve the concept of equity. I shudder to imagine what they will do.

The junta does believe, however, that money has rights and freedoms. Attempts to curb the ability of corporations and wealthy individuals to purchase the legislative outcomes they want are out of the question.

In the short term, the junta is willing for the United States to be more like the loose collection of sovereign states created by the Articles of Confederation than the strong union created by the Constitution. A Missouri woman who has a safe, legal abortion across the river in Illinois could be a wanted criminal once she returns home. A gun that can’t be purchased in Maryland could be easily bought across the river in Virginia.

But this patchwork is just temporary, I fear. The junta clearly wants to transform the whole country to suit its reactionary vision. And its members, with lifetime appointments, are young enough to complete the job.

There is one way, and only one way, to keep this dystopia from being fully realized: Elect presidents, members of Congress, governors and state legislators who will use all their powers — which together are greater than the junta’s — to bend the arc of our moral universe back toward justice.

Our votes are the only weapons we have. Either we use them or we lose the future.