Speaking Of Power…

The New Republic has a new podcast, titled “How to Save a Country” devoted to ideas about a “new political vision and a new economic vision for the United States.”

A recent introduction began “It’s that time of year, a chill is in the air. Halloween candies hit all the grocery store aisles, and perhaps scariest of all …the Supreme Court is back in session.”

As Michael Tomasky noted,

We could see the last vestiges of affirmative action overturned. We could see a decision that gives state legislatures the power to essentially overturn federal election results. And we might see a more definitive conclusion of the right of business owners to refuse to serve gay customers. You know, the wedding cake question.

The interviewee on this particular episode was Amy Kapczynski, who co-directs both Yale’s Global Health Justice Partnership and its Law and Political Economy Project. She also clerked for both Sandra Day O’Connor and Stephen Breyer–experience that prompted one of the first questions: what was it like to work at the Supreme Court?

Gosh, there’s lots to say about what it’s like at the Supreme Court. It’s the kind of building that when school kids come into it, they often ask whether it’s a church. It’s a very intimidating place. It’s a very intense place to work. It’s a very small and intimate place. I can think of no government agency that has anything like the amount of power that it has with so few people working for it, and it’s a place about which I would say there’s a lot of secrecy. So some of that has been drawn back a little bit recently as we started to see both the leaks of the Supreme Court and also, I think, with more public attention, people realizing how much power the court has and how a concerted majority that’s really not afraid of public reaction can use that power.

I think one of the things that I was fascinated by as a young person going to law school and then working at the Supreme Court, is how people in power think about the power that they hold. And clearly, I think one thing that we’re seeing about the Supreme Court now is that you have a slim majority that’s very, very conservative and that’s very eager to use the power that they have to advance a vision of America that doesn’t look a whole lot like America today. It’s part of the reason they talk so much about 1789.

Kapczynski says we should be prepared for a lot of bad 6–3 decisions (several of which the podcast participants discussed) and that progressives need to think carefully about what we can do and how we can react. She points out that the Supreme Court is not the only body that can interpret the Constitution, and that the view that all Constitutional interpretation must occur there is a relatively modern phenomenon.

There’s a long history that we can look back to where there have been fights about the court, where the court has overreached, and where there have been ways that the public and our political branches have responded that have curbed the court’s power.

And sometimes it happens because the amount of public outcry actually causes those individual people sitting there and reading their newspapers to think, “Well, gosh, maybe we are overstepping, and maybe we’re really going to face the loss of our legitimacy or changing of our composition if we don’t pull back.”

Given the breathtaking arrogance and intellectual dishonesty of Justice Alito and the equally arrogant indifference to ethics displayed by Thomas, I’m dubious that the worst actors on today’s Court will recognize  and dial back their outsized contributions to the Court’s diminished legitimacy…although one can hope.

Kapczynski shares more concrete suggestions for curtailing our rogue Court, and those suggestions bring us back to the issue of power–how it is exercised, and by whom. It also brings us back to the importance of civic education/literacy.

So there are lots of options. All of them require lots of power, right? You need really strong majorities and committed majorities in Washington, so not just the presidency but a stronger majority than we have in Congress and the Senate and so forth to really take those kinds of things forward. And you do need a party and a base that’s more educated about why this is important, that understands the structural power at stake and cares about that.

If those considerable hurdles can be surmounted, Congress can look into the pros and cons of adding justices, imposing term limits and/or restricting areas of jurisdiction.

If Republicans control Congress after the Midterms, of course, none of that will happen.



  1. When Thomas Jefferson coined “the pursuit of happiness” as one of the coveted tenants of our freedom, it became a call for innovation and economic growth. But government had the power to determine a surplus of happiness to be taxed. There is a significant difference in well-being between people who made their money on their own and people who were given their wealth by their parents. When a government seeks to impose its version of happiness by force of edict, it removes one of the most important contributors to happiness: our own empowerment in striving to achieve it.

    Come Election Day, you be the judge.

  2. “And you do need a party and a base that’s more educated about why this is important, that understands the structural power at stake and cares about that.”

    Ding, ding, ding…we have a winning insight. Unfortunately, due to this insight, we also have a loser – the U.S. citizen who can only choose between a D or an R next month.

    For those who don’t have Twitter, the progressive @AOC was carrying out a Town Hall when two young men interrupted to harass her about why she and the Squad were voting for war. Unfortunately, our media is too lame to ask this question. Jimmy Dore and many other independent journalists have asked the same thing but are ignored by our lame media.

    The last act “The Squad” performed for the cameras was pretending to get arrested by D.C. police during a protest on T.V. The acting was horrible.

    The young American understands that Washington is performative. The “woke left” is just acting, and everybody else seems clueless – glued to their T.V.s watching a fake committee run a hearing about fake people playing a role in a phony uprising from 2 years ago so that a fake president can get reelected to a fake White House.

    The media and Washington are all phony to give the people the illusion that our government is real and the people are at the center of their concerns. They are not. It’s an illusion – a show.

    We were an oligarchy in 1776 and are still an oligarchy; it’s only worsened in the past 40 years under neoliberalism.

  3. Why do people keep labeling Alito and the rest of those liars conservative? They are most certainly not about preserving anything related to the current nation’s situations. They are BACKWARD in the extreme. Alito’s arrogance is the collective raving of an old man laughing at everyone else. Thomas is beneath contempt. Kavanaugh, Gorsuch and Barrett are liars and retrograde humans. These disgusting people are running back to the 18th century with all dispatch, because they are the ultimate products of corporate-fueled corruption in the Republican party.

    Remember, EVERY time Republicans get their hands on the economy or social issues, they screw them up. Greed defeats reason, fairness and clear thought EVERY time.

    Yes, Sheila. Voting for every Democrat on every ballot is necessary. We MUST get a filibuster proof Senate majority, then outlaw the filibuster. Then, the Democratic House MUST begin the overturning of a host of this court’s disasters by expanding the court, overturning Citizens United, beginning the amendment process for eliminating the electoral college and codifying voting rights, women’s rights and gay rights into hard law.

    If we don’t do these things in the next two years, I think we’ve had it as a democratic republic.

  4. The only positive thing I can say about the current court is that they forced me to change my mind about expansion. Three rulings released in June on abortion, gun rights, and the environment showed clearly that they really didn’t care about the Constitution, original or not. They do seem to care about “owning the libs.” I can’t say they are conservative, but I can say that they are juvenile.

  5. The Colorado River, the Mississippi River, the Danube, the Thames, the Ganges, the Yangtze River, the Nile River, they provide water for drinking and irrigation to billions of people.

    These Rivers are in crisis, they’re drying up! The army corps of engineers is building a huge subsurface sill to stop salt water from flowing back up the Mississippi River and contaminating the fresh water with salt water. All because the level of the river is dropping and the flow is weakening.

    A worldwide drought is going to bring food shortage, and price gouging for any available food will bring major conflict.

    If this worldwide drought continues, it’s going to be one of the worst pages in human history. Billions of people are going to starve to death, countries will go to war over water and resources. Politics Will take a back seat because the hornets nests of humanity are going to demand some sort of action.

    25 years ago, when many were talking about drought proofing this country and other areas around the world, with huge desalinization plants, went in one ear and out the other. Why? Politics! Instead of looking at the greater good, no one wants to give the other guy anything to point to that’s positive.

    This is the history of humanity. This sort of thing happened before! But never on this type of scale. It did wipe out half of the world’s population though. Droughts, then floods, then famine, then disease, from around 1240AD to 1280AD then again in the great 17th century collapse.

    Did the world learn anything from these historical facts? Nope! Noses in the air, business as usual, the Noble Echelon concentrated on money and power!

    Ethics and compassion, morality and concern, love and empathy for the greater good be damned, and has taken a back seat to moral turpitude, greed, power, and wealth!

    Humanity is way too broken to guide his own steps, way way too ignorant and selfish to plan for anything excepting maybe war! All while ignoring the war on our streets and complete political paralyzation!

    Historically this has been the cycle, this has been the collapse of societies, the only thing different now, the world population has exploded and everything is connected! There is no isolation anymore. One goes we all go! Governments, courts, committees, organizations, have no solution. Because no one can work together, no one has the compassion or ethics to do anything conscionable for their fellow man or this planet. Don’t take my word on it, as Lester said, look at history!

    Remember how covid caught everyone by surprise and the stores were empty, you couldn’t even buy toilet paper? In a matter of a couple of days! Wait till the food runs out, with the amount of guns floating around, it’ll be worse than Anarchy!

    Anarchists will tell you that power corrupts, and the main concern for those in power is acquiring wealth and more power, all at the cost of the common good, or general welfare.

    Well? Are they wrong? History shows, the reason for anarchal movements is because of the inability of governments to govern for the masses.

    When Trump was running for president, many pointed out that the supreme Court hung in the balance, and in general, the pundits poopooed it. Lol, now it’s a big deal? Anyone with a brain could see what was happening, but it was like they all had bags over their heads! Now, there are bigger fish to fry, and those bags are pulled out of the drawers once again!

    “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of god, having an appearance of godliness but proving false to its power;”

    Sound familiar?

  6. “Remember, EVERY time Republicans get their hands on the economy or social issues, they screw them up. Greed defeats reason, fairness and clear thought EVERY time.”

    Back in the first century it was noted, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”

    Maybe the Republicans around then too! 🙂

  7. Sheila and Vernon; yes, this election is a numbers game. The Democratic party can learn a lesson from the Republicans, Trump’s and others, they will all vote for any and all Republicans on the ballot. They do seem to understand one lesson President Abraham Lincoln tried to impart to this country when he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” A PARTY divided against itself cannot stand and certainly cannot win elections. The Republicans power is in their numbers.


  8. Words are so important.

    Calling authoritarians “conservative” is a Halloween costume. They are simply not conserving what the costume symbolizes. They are only about taking the country back to what failed us in the past in order to isolate all of us from the reality of the current times and they are doing it through entertainment media-led loyal audience building, the Murdoch’s business plan. Of course, wealth redistribution up supports all the wealthy but creating popular support for it is the Murdoch’s only gig.

    As has been predicted for decades by even more people than live in denial of it, the transition off of climate-changing energy has to rub so many anti-change people the wrong way that the human race will be off kilter for decades. Off-kilter humans are very susceptible to organizing and the Murdochs will be known forevermore as the creators of the new world order of people against adaptation to immutable reality.

    Reality though always wins in the end. We can organize against the human knowledge of it but when in human history did ignorance of reality win over adaptation to it over the long run?

    We gave the entertainment business power over us, and now we reap the cost of that blunder.

  9. We have voted.
    I just read that in Georgia, where 80,000 early votes were submitted on the first day of early voting in 2016, 180,000 have been submitted
    as of yesterday’s start of early voting. I’m guessing that this is a good sign for Abrams.
    Alito, and crew, need to be reigned in, big time, along with the rest of the right-wing power brokers!!!!!!!!!!

  10. JoAnn,

    Yes Abraham Lincoln talked about A house divided, but, he borrowed that particular phrase from the Bible in Mark 3:25! Abraham Lincoln was an avid Bible reader!

    It seems like Kathy M is also an avid Bible reader Luke 16:9, 13–excellent choice Kathy 🥰

  11. Peggy, I too was opposed to expansion of the court until recently but am on board now since it is clear that a majority of the court cannot resist making the facts and law conform to their preconceived outcomes rather than the other way around. There is also a certain Alito arrogance borne out of the immunity of a lifetime appointment that turns me off as well. Addition of four new justices would (one would hope) restore balance to the court’s decisionmaking and perhaps restore public respect for the institution the present majority is recklessly disregarding.

    Thus the other two branches are subject to voter approval but the federal judiciary is not. Both voting and appointment systems of the judiciary have their faults, and whether one serves us better than the other is largely a matter of the personnel involved and how their decisions conform to the day and the need, respect for the strictures of stare decisis etc., and while the chief justice bemoans the loss of public confidence in the Supreme Court, the arrogance of the majority has brought it on themselves what with that of Justice Thomas in predicting in Dobbs how the court will hear and be holding in future matters beyond abortion – predictions which point up the need to increase additional justices on the court without delay.

    I have always known that there might be some political influence in the Supreme Court’s decisions, but this court’s majority has gone beyond the merely political into removal of constitutional rights, rights which are so fundamental that I think their removal is itself unconstitutional as inalienable and not up for grabs by any branch of our government.

    So for the foregoing and other reasons not set out here for want of time and space, aye to an increase in the number of justices on the Supreme Court.

  12. Mea culpa; sorry for the incomplete sentence, of course I meant I understand what President Lincoln said, I also understand what he meant.

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