Targeting the Supreme Court

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.

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About Double take Sociology

I am a professor of sociology at Florida State University. I research (and write about) social movements, mass media and politics. My new book is "Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America" (2015, Cambridge University Press). Be sure to visit my website at www.DeanaRohlinger.com!
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3 Responses to Targeting the Supreme Court

  1. joesix says:

    The Court politicized itself with the Citizens United ruling.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful approach, Professor Deana. I enjoyed reading and thinking about what you’ve written.

    It’s a bit unnerving to me to consider how nine people with great health care coverage get to estimate the value of a law legislated by a few hundred other people with great health care coverage that concerns primarily the large part of the population that has either poor coverage, or none. Can they really put themselves in the under-served person’s place from a position so far removed from them? Plus the fact that historically, “constitutionality” has been as fluid a concept as the “true meaning” of scriptures.

    As a technologist in health care, I cringe a lot too. I still think it’s all unsolvable until or unless we get a single-payer system, a true public option. Hard to imagine from within our corporatist culture – unless you actually travel to some of those countries that have it and see how cheap and easy it is to get care there compared to our (social Darwinist) system.

    • deanar says:

      Invisible Mikey, You make some excellent points. While unnerving, the Supreme Court has been making dicey decisions long before either of us was born. While I personally agree, I cannot shake that nagging feeling that this extreme external politicization of the Supreme Court is leading us into uncharted territory. I do not doubt that this is not entirely new phenomenon. The difference, of course, is that targeting the Court is just so easy in the digital era. In an angry moment, I can sign a petition or send 20 postcards with a simple mouse click. My anger may diminish but have I participated in a way that recognizes (or respects) how our system of checks and balances works?

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