Calling Balls and Strikes

Eric Levitz of New York Mag asks, “Why is [Chief Justice] John Roberts so popular among Democrats?”

Earlier this month, Gallup gauged American sentiment toward 11 of the nation’s most prominent public figures. Only one boasted majority support from both Democrats and Republicans, and he happens to be the most effective conservative politician of the modern era.

During his tenure on the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts has voted to gut the Voting Rights Act, ban limitations on corporate political spending, effectively legalize most forms of political bribery, rewrite the Affordable Care Act in a manner that cost millions of Americans access to Medicaid, restrict the capacity of consumers and workers to sue corporations that abuse them, nullify state-level school-desegregation efforts, sanction partisan gerrymandering, and carve gaping loopholes into Roe v. Wade.

And Roberts nevertheless retains the approval of 55 percent of Democratic voters (along with 57 percent of Republican voters) in Gallup’s new poll. No other official in the survey — not Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, either party’s congressional leadership, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, or Dr. Anthony Fauci — claimed majority support in both blue and red America.

That’s an easy one. It’s because most mainstream reportage about the SCOTUS is delivered in a reverent tone, like a high school chess club treasurer’s account of a grand master championship. Our mainstream media almost always depict SCOTUS arguments as rarified and abstract clashes among intellectual giants. As valued commenter Kay has pointed out, there’s little or no discussion of real-world consequences, i.e., the impact on people’s lives.

So we get overly credulous descriptions of nonsense like originalism and accounts of clever maneuvering around precedent and competing analyses over precedence blah blah blah. What we need is: “Hey, that means Southern states are free to impose poll taxes again,” or “Plutocrats can buy crooked politicians by the bushel now,” or “Your boss can order you to freeze to death in the cab of a truck or be fired,” or “There’s no longer a constitutional right to an abortion in Texas, so minor girls will be forced to give birth after being raped by their own fathers.”

I think this defect is at least partly explains Roberts’ popularity. Levitz leaves open the possibility that favorable perception of Roberts could change when the reality of the court’s radical right turn starts manifesting in people’s lives in ever more obnoxious and deadly ways. God, I hope so, but sometimes I’m convinced we’re a nation of slow-boiled frogs.

Open thread.

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