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The Costs of America’s Renegade Judiciary

After a term in which the US Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional protection for abortion and issued a raft of other politically motivated rulings, confidence in the institution has sunk to an unprecedented low. This is all the more worrying at a time of authoritarian attacks on human rights and democracy around the world.

NEW YORK – In its most recent term, the US Supreme Court issued significant and controversial rulings on abortion rights, gun safety, climate, immigration, and church-state separation. Beyond the shock of the decisions, the majority’s aggressive tone and overt embrace of ideological theories well outside the judicial mainstream has raised alarm bells.

By design, the US Constitution made the judiciary the most independent branch of government, granting Supreme Court justices – who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate – lifetime tenure. The idea was to create a judicial system in which impartial judges would hear cases and make up-or-down decisions based solely on the merits.

But the Trump Court – so named because the former president’s three appointments cemented its far-right majority – is a far cry from what the framers envisioned. Rather than operating independently, the Court now bows to an activist minority of Americans and powerful corporate interests. And far from being insulated from politics, its right-wing justices are leading a broader trend in which judges and courts increasingly weigh in on policy and culture-war issues, as well as providing a second front to protect corporate power.

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