Wednesday, June 29, 2022 | 2 a.m.
Gradually, minority rule has strengthened its grip on Arizona and America.
This didn’t start with overturning Roe v. Wade — that’s just the latest and best example.
It’s been happening regularly in elections, lawmaking and, yes, court decisions for years. Friday’s Supreme Court ruling was just an especially powerful reminder that we’re an admirably diverse country and state governed increasingly by a minority of politically conservative Christian activists, especially on the court.
The result of their rise is that the rest of us — not just liberals and Democrats, but everyone outside the conservative Christian fold — are, functionally, lesser citizens. Our votes and our opinions count for less. They are the self-described “real Americans” with full rights; we are lesser Americans with diminished rights.
That seems most obvious in the case of Roe v. Wade. Before Friday’s ruling, polls consistently showed that more than 60% of Americans did not want Roe v. Wade to be overturned, and that large majorities support abortion rights in all or most cases.
But set aside women’s rights to control their own bodies and destinies. Think about a slightly less potent issue — school vouchers.
This is an idea with origins in the backlash to racial desegregation in the South in the 1950s. After the Supreme Court struck down “separate but equal” public schooling, Southern states established “segregation academies” — private, segregated schools. White families could leave the newly desegregated public schools and pay for the private schooling with a new system of taxpayer-funded “vouchers.”
Libertarians such as Milton Friedman embraced the idea, and it has been popular among Christian conservatives — both Catholics and Protestant fundamentalists — for decades. It’s a way to fund religious schools with public money and draw more students to their religious instruction.
It’s another effort at minority rule. And it’s being supported by this same Supreme Court.
The court ruled last week that Maine may not withhold vouchers from “sectarian” religious schools. In other words, if states are going to give out vouchers for private schools, they may not exclude schools that promote religious faiths.
In its ruling, the court favored the Constitution’s freedom of religion over the prohibition against establishment of a state religion. The result: Not only may Maine fund religious schools with public money, but it must do so.
As it stands, Americans who are not Christian conservatives don’t count for as much. We’re like four-fifths of an American. Conservative Christians count for like six-fifths of an American.
You see this in the effort by former President Donald Trump and his supporters to overturn the results of the 2020 elections.
Trump had lost the popular vote in 2016, 65.8 million to 63 million. But our anti-majoritarian Electoral College system produced his minority rule.
Then in 2020, Trump lost by a wider margin, 81.3 million to 74.2 million. In Arizona and around the country, post-election studies have revealed why: Many people who voted for Republicans down the ballot voted against Trump at the top, or didn’t vote for president at all.
But Trump has found strong support for the pathetic denial of his loss. Some would rather have no democracy at all than a democracy governed by Americans who don’t view the world like them.
Now, when I talk about “democracy” and “majority rule,” some people are quick to retort that “We’re a republic, not a democracy” and “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to eat for dinner.”
But that’s neither our system nor our situation at all. The Constitution establishes a republic that is also a representative democracy and that rightfully protects minority and individual rights. Combined with ruthless politics, though, it has produced minority rule.
How? In the case of the Supreme Court, it’s really as simple as this: Sen. Mitch McConnell, then the majority leader, blocked any vote on Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court in the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency, 2016, saying the nomination was too close to the election, though it was several months away.
Then he pushed through the nomination of Trump pick Amy Coney Barrett just eight days before the 2020 election. The 52 Republican senators who voted to confirm Coney Barrett represented about 16 million fewer Americans than the 47 Democrats and one Republican who voted against her confirmation.
The ruthless politics went further. Two of Trump’s three nominees to the court, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, apparently lied in their nomination hearings that they considered Roe v. Wade settled precedent.
If Democrats can expand the Supreme Court, they should, with no apologies needed or offered. If they can codify abortion rights, gay marriage or the right to contraception, they should.
It’s good that our system protects minority rights, but it is untenable when it produces minority rule on these momentous social issues.
Tim Steller is a columnist for The Arizona Daily Star of Tucson.