How did the US Supreme Court turn right-wing and do recent rulings give hope to midterm Democrats?
The annual term of the United States Supreme Court generally ends at the end of June. It is therefore at the end of June that the most important decisions are likely to be announced.
On June 23, the Court struck down a New York state law that restricted the carrying of firearms outside the home. On June 24, he denied a constitutional right to abortion, reversing his own Roe v. Wade in 1973. On June 30, he spoke out against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on fossil fuels.
From an international perspective, the EPA’s decision is the most significant. Other countries may establish their own gun and abortion laws, but climate change mitigation efforts require international cooperation. According to a May 2021 report, China held 27% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, with the United States ranking second with 11% of emissions.
How did the Supreme Court turn right? Unlike Australia, judicial appointments in the United States are politicized. Democratic presidents will try to appoint left-wing judges and Republican presidents will try to appoint right-wing judges.
Supreme Court justices are appointed for life. Presidents appoint judges who are subject to confirmation by the US Senate alone, not the House of Representatives.
Until late 2020, the Court had a 5-4 right-wing majority, but Chief Justice John Roberts has occasionally sided with the left, notably in the June 2012 ruling that upheld the law on Barack Obama’s Affordable Care (Obamacare).
In February 2016, right-wing judge Antonin Scalia died. Obama was still president at the time, and replacing Scalia would have given the left a 5-4 majority. But Republicans controlled the Senate and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to vote for the presidential nominee. ‘Obama, Merrick Garland.
McConnell’s ruthlessness was rewarded when Donald Trump unexpectedly defeated Hillary Clinton in the November 2016 presidential election. Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to replace Scalia, and his nomination was confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate in April 2017.
In July 2018, right-wing Justice Anthony Kennedy retired. After a vicious confirmation fight involving rape allegations, Kennedy was replaced by Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh in October 2018.
In the November 2018 midterm elections, Democrats took control of the House, where all 435 seats are up for election every two years. But senators have a six-year term, with a third every two years. Senate seats were last elected in 2012, a strong year for Democrats. Republicans won two net Senate seats in 2018 to extend their control.
In September 2020, leftist Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. McConnell ruthlessly pushed Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett into the Senate in late October, shortly before the November 2020 election that Trump lost.
That’s how we now have a right-wing 6-3 Supreme Court: Obama didn’t get a chance to replace the right-wing Scalia, while Trump had three approved nominees, including Ginsburg’s replacement.
Left-leaning Justice Stephen Breyer announced he would retire at the end of the current term, and President Joe Biden’s nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed by the now Democratic-controlled Senate in April. Jackson has now replaced Breyer, but she replaced a left-wing judge, so the 6-3 right-wing majority remains.
The Supreme Court is historically unpopular, but so is Biden
A Gallup poll taken in June before major rulings were announced, had 25% expressing great or great confidence in the Supreme Court, up from 36% in June 2021. This is the lowest confidence in the Court in the poll of Gallup, which dates back to 1973; the previous low was 30% in 2014.
A FiveThirtyEight article last Friday cited seven polls that asked whether voters approved or disapproved of the June 24 abortion decision. Disapproval led in all seven polls by seven to 23 points, with an average lead of 15.6.
The bad news for Democrats is that Biden’s ratings are at near record highs compared to past presidents. In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, 55.9% disapprove of Biden’s performance and 39.2% approve (net -16.7).
That’s worse than Trump, who had -10.2 net approval at this point in his presidency. Since the presidential approval poll began with Harry Truman (president from 1945 to 1953), Biden has only beaten Truman at this point in previous presidencies. Truman fell to net -19.0 before bouncing back to positive net approval.
Inflation and the resulting decline in real wages largely explain Biden’s unpopularity. U.S. inflation rose 1.0% in May alone to a 12-month rate of 8.6%, the highest since 1981. Real weekly earnings fell 0.7% in May and declined 3.9% in the 12 months to May.
In addition to economic factors, I think the perception that Biden was weak in both the August 2021 pullout from Afghanistan and the current Russian invasion of Ukraine hurt his ratings.
Midterm elections will be held in early November, with all 435 seats in the House and a third of the Senate. FiveThirtyEight has Republicans leading Democrats by 2.0% in the race for Congress, little change from before the abortion decision.
While the currently tight polls give Democrats hope, they don’t yet factor in Republican efforts to tie Democratic candidates to the unpopular Biden, or for a greater Republican likelihood to vote. The FiveThirtyEight House model gives Republicans an 87% chance of taking control of Democrats.
In the Senate, there are elections for 35 of the 100 seats — 34 are regular elections that were last held in 2016 and one is a by-election in sure Republican Oklahoma. Republicans will defend 21 seats and Democrats 14. The Senate is currently 50-50 with Democrats controlling Vice President Kamala Harris’ deciding vote.
Although the Republicans need only one net gain in the Senate to take control, their defense of 21 seats to the Democrats’ 14 makes it harder for them than the House. FiveThirtyEight gives Republicans a 55% chance of winning the Senate.
In my opinion, the economy is likely to be far more important to most voters than abortion. Democrats are still likely to be bumped midterm due to the economy.
Long-term election trends look bleak for Democrats
In April, I calculated the percentage of people living in cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants in four countries: the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada. 68% of Australians lived in cities with more than 100,000 people, but only 29% of Americans.
Read more: Will a lifelong learning divide end up electorally favoring Labor because of our big cities?
In the United States, high-income whites moved to “suburbs” outside of cities, and these moved to Democrats in 2020, helping Biden win.
Like the Australian Senate, the US Senate has the same number of senators for each state (12 in Australia, two in the US), which makes it very ill-distributed, with high population states like California, Texas, Florida and New York getting the same number of senators as the less populated states.
Analyst Nate Silver said in May that meant the U.S. Senate was heavily skewed toward groups that leaned toward Republicans (rural and small-town voters).
In the United States as a whole, voters in suburbs and cities make up 52% of the population, compared to 48% for voters in rural areas and small towns. But in the average state, rural towns and small towns make up 61% of the population, while suburban and city voters have just 39%.
In 2024, Democrats will defend 23 Senate seats and Republicans only 10; these will include Democratic defenses in Montana, Ohio and West Virginia, which Trump easily won in 2016 and 2020.
If Republicans get a permanent lock on the Senate, they can deny future Democratic presidents legislative or judicial victories. The United States could be heading towards a future where only Republican presidents are able to govern effectively.
UK Conservatives lose two seats in by-election
I covered the Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton UK by-elections on June 23 for The Poll Bludger. The Tories lost Wakefield to Labor and T&H to the Liberal Democrats. Also covered: the collapse of the Israeli government that was formed to keep Benjamin Netanyahu out, and Colombia elected a leftist president for the first time.