When a lifetime nomination for the Supreme Court becomes the source of spreading a deadly virus, it should be taken as an omen.
Exactly one month after “Rona” crashed the maskless White House party for Judge Amy Barrett’s appointment, infecting staff, at least two senators and perhaps the feckless president himself, she has gained one of the nine mightiest seats of judgment in this nation.
Even when the reign of terror by the Trump administration ends, Judge Barrett’s addition to the high court is likely to extend its carnage in the lives of millions of LGBTQ Americans. Decades of hard-won progress for anti-discrimination protections and family recognition are now imperiled by the shifting math. This includes grave danger to the precedents for privacy in Roe v. Wade and Casey and even Lawrence in which is anchored the landmark ruling in Obergefell for marriage equality.
If settled laws establishing Social Security and Medicare are back on the table, as Barrett suggested at her Senate hearing, are even the laws to punish hate crimes safe?
Like the utter surrender of all the president’s men to COVID, the calamity of a right-wing, interventionist Supreme Court poised to invalidate even state-based safeguards against bias and hate could inflict vast casualties. The most vulnerable and least protected could pay the highest price.
No wonder LGBTQ people are in revolt, and voting as if our lives depend on it. Paul Monette, the gay writer who died of AIDS a quarter century ago, argued that grief is either a sword or useless. Gloria Anzaldúa, the late lesbian academic, essayist and activist, described darkness and sorrow as laboratories for the most potent rebellion.
Perhaps more than any time since the early 1990s, the LGBTQ community is enraged and engaged in electoral politics, poised to play a key role in transforming all three branches of government, including at the state level. This upsurge comes with the added attention to racial injustice, misogyny and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim bigotry, which portends more lasting and much larger coalitions for change.
Fighting back begins with casting complete ballots. It must include visibility in the rallies and activism accompanying transitions of power. It requires participation by LGBTQ leaders in the redistricting process in the states, which draw boundaries that shape representation and how advocates might wield influence for the next decade.
Fighting back also compels that advocates seize the teachable moment on court reform. For more than 30 years, conservatives have been using their legislative authority in the states to expand supreme courts, including recently in the states of Georgia and Arizona. These states are noteworthy for their lack of anti-bias laws covering LGBTQ people and their emerging “swing” status that jeopardizes one-party Republican control. This specter was an unmistakable motivating factor for so-called “court-packing” by conservatives to cement a kind of veto power against policy gains for LGBTQ people and other long-ignored communities. Call it a trump card, a term with added meaning now at the federal level.
Republican condemnation of increasing the size of the U.S. Supreme Court while conducting such maneuvers at the state level has a familiar ring of hypocrisy. It builds on Republican senators’ breaking their own professed standard from 2016 about no appointments to the high court in a year of Presidential voting. The hubris and contempt for truth flaunted in their pre-election haste to install an ideological foe of LGBTQ rights on the court have now become a trigger. For Democrats, altering the composition of the high court may be justified as a consequence. For the LGBTQ community, the focus must remain on ending the onslaught on our freedom and the legal protection of our lives and families.
The denial of COVID by the Trump administration holds echoes of the past. Refusal to reckon openly, factually and humanely with HIV-AIDS by the Reagan White House begat other cruelties, and so has this one. The entire process of strong-arming Judge Barrett into the seat left vacant by the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is soaked in sickness more malignant than the cancer that claimed the late Justice.
Voting alone does not erase the anguish and trauma of such wicked, corrosive hypocrisy. But voting in enormous numbers is one antidote, even more potent if it ushers in diversity of representation as part of pro-LGBTQ majorities. Legislation to reform the high court, a product of changed chemistry in the Congress, could be a lasting cure. It might even inspire similar, complementary reforms in some states. The grief and havoc of these past four years, confronted boldly, can yield an outgrowth of hope.
Hans Johnson has advised LGBT organizations and ballot measure campaigns in nearly every state. A longtime Washingtonian and former Blade columnist, he now lives in Los Angeles.