Like most academics, I get a lot of emails. In fact, I have an entire account where I receive nothing but emails from social movement groups across the political spectrum and political parties. This week, I received a new kind of email — one urging me to send postcards or sign petitions that would be delivered to the key Supreme Court justices and their clerks. Readers are told that postcards and petitions are the fastest (and most effective) way to ensure that the Supreme Court Justice take popular opinion into account as they deliberate.
Here’s the rub. While I understand that activists constantly seek out new targets, what does it mean when there is a popular perception that the highest court can be swayed by movement campaigns? In this regard, the stakes seem quite high. Clearly, we are in a historical moment when everyone’s political motives are suspect. This is no less true of the Supreme Court, where each judge faces accusations of ideological bias in one direction or another. Further politicizing this body outside the courtroom will inevitably affect how the broader public interprets its decisions and, ultimately, assesses its legitimacy as part of the democratic process.
By profession, I question the choices of activists and assess the effectiveness of their strategies. I rarely cringe when I think about the long term consequences of activism on democratic processes and discourse. This week, however, I am cringing quite a bit.