Saturday, June 25, 2022

What Politics Has Done, Politics Can Undo

"The majority has overruled Roe and Casey for one and only one reason: because it has always despised them, and now it has the votes to discard them."

That's from the joint dissent in Dobbs. It's true. Nothing about the Constitution changed from the start of this week to the end of this week, or indeed (in relevant part) from 1973 to today. What changed was politics. The conservative right spent fifty years in a slow, grinding war of political attrition -- gaining power, entrenching itself in key institutions, pushing forward -- and Dobbs was the payoff. That's a political accomplishment, not a legal one.

It is difficult to tell my students that no legal argument that they will learn in my Con Law class will make the slightest difference in terms of potentially seeing Dobbs overturned, just as no legal argument actually played any role in seeing Roe overturned. Nonetheless, it is true. But that just means the relevant arena for fighting is different. What politics did, politics can undo.

There is a bruising fight coming. There is no weird trick by which Democrats can win it in a one-punch knockout tomorrow. It will likely take years. Overturning Roe took Republicans nearly fifty years. God willing, reviving Roe will not take that long. Indeed, my fondest dream is that the reversals happen while at least some of the current GOP justices are on the Court. I want them to be there as their work crumbles to dust, I want them to mewl helplessly as their precedents (and I don't just mean Dobbs here) are brushed aside as aberrant malignancies on the constitutional body politic. But it will take a sustained, disciplined political campaign, at all levels of government, that matches or even exceeds what anti-abortion advocates threw at the issue for the past fifty years.

And while no, "just vote" is not a sufficient part of that strategy, yes, voting is a necessary and indeed critical and central part of that strategy, and anybody is who is indulging in mocking voting or undermining voting or depressing voting is functionally abetting the anti-abortion cause no matter what else they claim to be doing on the issue. All the other components of fighting for abortions rights in 2022 -- from protests to strikes to mutual aid programs to deleting your period tracking apps -- are at most rear-guard actions without more Democrats in power. It doesn't matter who the Democrat is. Yes, even the supposed "pro-life" Democrats. Why? Because when Democrats, as a party, are in a stronger position, the gravitational pull of politics moves all Democrats in a pro-choice direction. It's no accident that Joe Manchin, who long has presented himself as "pro-life", is now talking about codifying Roe. It's also no accident that Susan Collins, who long has identified as "pro-choice", was a key player in ensuring that the anti-Roe majority was present on the Supreme Court. Republican power alters the center of gravity of politics in an anti-abortion direction even if individual Republicans claim to be pro-choice; Democratic power does the oppose even if individual Democrats claim to be pro-life. It's obviously better to have pro-choice Dems than pro-life Dems, but it's better to have any Dems than any Republicans in office. If nothing else, Susan Collins is testament to the strategy that if you keep control of the dice long enough, eventually the party apparatus will win out.

I won't claim to be especially impressed with the manner in which the Democratic leadership has responded to Roe's demise -- but then, crushing defeats are rarely pretty for the defeated party. Nonetheless, unless more Democrats are elected, there is no hope of reviving Roe. It's that simple. There's no substitute for having power.

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