WASHINGTON—When, shortly after noon Thursday, Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, it was a historic occasion: after all this time, a black woman finally takes a seat on that court, the first defender to do it too. Yet after the court’s term, culminating in two furious weeks of decisions that have begun to reshape US life and politics, she almost felt like a footnote.
Protection of abortion access (and with it, potentially, precedents that protect access to birth control, protect same-sex intimacy, and allow same-sex marriage) were struck down, while overturning one of the most established judicial principles to respect precedent. State controls on the carrying of concealed firearms were lifted, setting a new legal standard in which any gun control would have to conform not to the facts of security needs, but to US history and tradition. US to allow armed citizenship. In two cases related to education, the separation between church and state was weakened and long standing legal test for ensuring that separation was discarded, replaced again by a reliance on history. And then on Thursday, the court ended its session with a ruling that severely restricted the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants, testing the Biden administration’s ability to implement their plans to combat climate change.
“I find it hard to think of a more momentous term in the history of the Supreme Court. Ever,” Steve Vladeck of the University of Texas at Austin, an expert on the United States Constitution and courts, tweeted. “The number of significant paradigm shifting failures, and everything in the same direction, it’s really unprecedented.”
Decisions by a majority of six Republican-appointed members of the court, flexing their partisan muscles in the face of popular opinion, has led to questions about the court’s legitimacy. I may have overturned calculation of midterm elections. It is rapidly reshaping American history and jurisprudence, in fundamental ways.
And in ways that can dramatically affect Canadians as well.
Of course, the Canadian government is always ready to score easy political points by responding to American news, announcing new gun control measures (which can often have more symbolic than practical effects) every time there is a high-profile mass shooting in the US, for example. .
On the heels of the US court’s abortion decision, Trudeau was quick to call the decision an “attack on the freedoms and rights of all” and vowed to defend reproductive freedom around the world. His administration, he said, would seek ways to enshrine abortion access more firmly in Canadian law, and his administration directed customs officials to continue allowing Americans to come to Canada to terminate pregnancies. Reproductive rights activists and abortion providers in Canada, meanwhile, he pointed that abortion access in Canada is already somewhat limited by the geography of available clinics, and that there may not be the capacity to handle the influx of American patients. Still, the announcement generated expected headlines on both sides of the border.
But many of the court’s recent high-profile decisions, and potentially many to come, as the court majority’s culture war march to rewrite the American legal landscape may be just beginning, directly affect Canada, and not they just feed the political news cycle. . The problem of gun violence in Canada is, for example, largely a smuggling problem in that easily accessible weapons in the US spill over the border in the form of blood on Canadian streets. A court that rolls back American gun control efforts in the US could well rack up a Canadian body count.
Or consider that there is no clearer borderless issue than climate change and anti-pollution efforts. If the US government is prevented from limiting carbon emissions in the US, the effects will be felt directly by our neighbors to the north who share with them great lakes, mountain ranges, and the air that circulates over our adjoining lands. . Which is not even to say that any effective global solution to climate change, or its mitigation, will likely depend on Americans taking a leadership role.
As much, if not more, the crisis of legitimacy on the court, in which judges representing a minority of public opinion have gained control by playing with electoral and judicial appointment systems in various ways both through strategy and luck feeds one growing crisis of legitimacy in american democratic institutions more broadly. We saw further evidence of that crisis unfolding in this week’s shocking Commission hearing on January 6 that detailed how close the United States came to total disaster during the insurrectionary mutiny of early 2021.
The currents are ready to cross again, since the court announced at the end of this period that, in its next period, listen to a case on electoral law that could make it easier for supporters to manipulate election boundaries and even overturn election results the way former President Donald Trump wanted them to in 2020.
A democratic crisis for our largest trading partner, closest ally and oldest friend would also present something of a crisis in Canada. Both because there are spillovers to our politics (as seen in the convoy protests ideologically allied with American conspiracy theorists and the adoption of authoritarian Trump tropes by Canadian politicians) and also because our economy and diplomacy they are deeply intertwined with those of the US t a problem that can be solved with a few headline-grabbing statements of moral purpose.
The United States Supreme Court is reshaping the course of United States history. This week, more than ever, showed that it may well be doing the same thing, in different ways, in the trajectory of Canada’s future. As Americans grapple with how they can deal with the effects, Canadian leaders will need to start thinking hard about the same question.
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