If Nov. 3 brings the massive blue wave that Democrats are hoping for, voters will not only replace President Donald Trump with former Vice President Joe Biden — they will also allow the party to maintain a majority in the House and gain a majority in the Senate. The outcome of the 2020 election remains to be seen, but the prospects for such a sweep are raising hopes about potentially major progressive changes in U.S. policy.
Liberal economist Paul Krugman, though, argues this week in his New York Times column that even if Democrats are in total control of the elected branches, Republicans will still be in a position to inflict considerable suffering with a far-right supermajority on the Supreme Court.
The Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett — Trump's far-right nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court — started on Monday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is hoping that Barrett will be confirmed before the end of the month.
Krugman explains: "It looks as if a president who is probably about to become a lame duck — and who lost the popular vote even in 2016 — together with a Senate that represents a minority of the American people, are about to install a right-wing supermajority on the Supreme Court…. Even if Democrats take both the Senate and the White House, they're now almost certain to face a 6-3 Supreme Court — that is, a Court dominated by appointees of an increasingly extremist party that has only won the popular vote for president once in the past three decades."
The Times columnist stresses that having a far-right Supreme Court majority will be terrible in a variety of ways.
"In the hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, Democrats have, rightly and understandably, hammered on the possibility that such a (Supreme) Court would use transparently spurious arguments to overturn the Affordable Care Act, causing tens of millions of Americans to lose health insurance coverage," Krugman notes. "Roe v. Wade is also in obvious danger. But I'd argue that the biggest threat this Court will pose is to environmental policy."
Krugman notes that billionaire Charles Koch "is reportedly investing millions trying to get Barrett confirmed."
"That's not because he's passionately opposed to abortion rights or probably, even because he wants the ACA overturned," Krugman observes. "What he's looking for, surely, is a (Supreme) Court that will block government regulation of business — and above all, a Court that will hamstring a Biden administration's efforts to take action against climate change."
Krugman adds, "It's hard to overstate just how dangerous it will be if the power of the Supreme Court ends up being used to undermine environmental protection…. We're already starting to see the effects of global warming in the form of fires and floods, and if we waste the next few years, it will probably be too late to avoid catastrophe."
The economist concludes his column by warning that even if Democrats are in control of the White House and both houses of Congress next year, a far-right Supreme Court could be an environmental nightmare.
"If a GOP-stacked Supreme Court blocks effective climate policy, it won't just be an outrage — it will be a disaster for America and the world," Krugman warns. "So, that can't be allowed to happen. Never mind all the talk about norms, which only seem to apply to Democrats, anyway. What's at stake here could be the future of civilization."