Friday, July 01, 2022
Forcing politicians to do their job
As you know, I live in Belgium. Belgium is a very complicated nation, as it is basically separated in half: There is a northern half, Flanders, where people speak Dutch, and a southern half, Wallonia, where people speak French (not to mention Brussels and the east cantons). The two halves are culturally very different, have different core values, and frequently don't get along very well. With each half having left and right parties, plus some others, agreeing on anything is difficult. Belgium currently holds the world record for the longest time to form a government after an election, at a whopping 541 days. And with all that, Belgium still manages to have a system that is less broken than the one of the United States of America, which is currently unraveling.
The political system in the USA is not only strongly divided, it is also designed at the federal level to make it possible for the minority to block the majority from doing very much. So in the second half of the 20th century a lot of very fundamental political decisions were left undecided at the level of the people who were supposed to make the laws. Every other country, including Belgium, managed to make a political decision on difficult questions like abortion or climate policy. The USA didn't. Instead they construed a twisted chain of thoughts in which these difficult questions were designated as "unenumerated constitutional rights", which is to say that these rights aren't in the constitution, but could somehow be argued to be similar to rights that are in the constitution. And so the decision about these difficult political questions were left to the Supreme Court.
That was not a good idea. Supreme Court justices are unelected officials for life, and thus probably the last people you'd want to make political decisions. And this year the Supreme Court actually came to that very same conclusion: These are political questions best left to lawmakers, not judges. While the *outcome* of striking down Roe vs. Wade and decisions about the EPA are reported as a win for the Republicans (who had stacked the Supreme Court with conservative judges), the reality is that the judges simply said that these are political questions that shouldn't be decided by them and they handed the job back to Congress.
While this temporarily creates a huge mess, because now politicians will be forced to make political decisions on difficult issues (like in every other democratic country), it also creates a huge opportunity for the Democrats. The Supreme Court didn't say abortions were illegal, it just said that the constitution didn't cover the question. A law that replaces Roe vs. Wade at the federal level will be needed at some point in the future (like every other democratic country has). And while the issue is very divisive, it appears clear that a large majority of Americans is very much for the right of a woman to have an abortion with some sensible restrictions. If Democrats campaign for such a law, and Republicans against it, that could very much swing the majority towards the left. It is a much more winnable political fight than an ill-defined "woke vs. anti-woke" cultural war.