This Week in US Politics: One of the most turbulent periods in US Supreme Court history and how it’s trajectory affects Canada

WASHINGTON — When Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as a judge of the U.S. Supreme Court just after noon on Thursday, it was a historic event: after all this time, a black woman finally takes a seat on that court — the first former public defender to do so. to do. But after the court’s term, which culminated in a furious two weeks of decisions that have begun to reshape life and politics in the US, it almost felt like a footnote.

The protections of abortion access (and thus potentially precedents protecting access to contraception, protecting same-sex intimacy, and permitting same-sex marriage) were scrapped—while one of the most well-established legal principles of respecting precedents was removed. cancelled. † State controls on the carrying of concealed pistols were abolished, establishing a new legal standard that gun control should conform not to the facts of security needs, but to an American history and tradition of permitting armed civilians. In two education-related cases, the separation of church and state was toned down, and a long-standing legal test to ensure the separation was discarded was replaced again with a reliance on history. And then, on Thursday, the court ended its hearing with a ruling severely curtailing the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants, jeopardizing the Biden administration’s ability to implement its plans to fight climate change. to feed.

“I find it hard to think of a more weighty term in Supreme Court history. Ever,” University of Texas at Austin’s Steve Vladeck, an expert on courts and the United States Constitution, tweeted† “The number of significant, paradigm-shifting statements, and everything in the… the same direction, really has no precedent.”

The decisions of a six-member, Republican-appointed majority of the court, flexing its partisan muscles in the face of popular opinion, have raised questions about the court’s legitimacy. It may have turned the midterm election calculus upside down. It is rapidly reshaping history and American jurisprudence, in fundamental ways.

And in ways that could dramatically affect Canadians too.

Of course, the Canadian government is always ready to score easy political points by responding to US news — announcing new gun control measures (which can often have more symbolic than practical effects) whenever there’s a high-profile mass shooting in the US, for example.

Immediately after the US court’s abortion decision, Trudeau was quick to call the decision an “attack on everyone’s freedoms and rights” and pledged to defend reproductive freedom around the world. His administration, he said, would look for ways to more firmly enshrine access to abortion in Canadian law, and his administration instructed customs officials to allow Americans to come to Canada to terminate their pregnancies. Reproductive rights activists and abortion providers in Canada, meanwhile, pointed out that access to abortion in Canada is already somewhat limited by the geography of available clinics, and may not have the capacity to handle an influx of US patients. Still, the announcement made headlines expected on both sides of the border.

But many of the recent high-profile court decisions—and possibly many more to come, as the court majority’s culture war march to rewrite the American legal landscape may be just beginning—have a direct impact on Canada, not just the United States. feeding the transient political news cycle. Canadian gun violence, for example, is in large part a smuggling problem with easy access to US weapons in the form of blood spilling across the border into Canadian streets. A court reversing U.S. arms control efforts in the U.S. could face a Canadian death toll.

Or consider that there is no clearer borderless problem than climate change and pollution control efforts. If the US government is prevented from limiting CO2 emissions in the US, the effects will be felt directly by the northern neighbors who share with them large lakes, mountain ranges and the air that circulates over our neighboring countries. Not to mention that an effective global solution to — or mitigation of — climate change will likely depend on Americans taking the lead.

The crisis of legitimacy in the court — in which judges representing a minority of public opinion have gained control by variously abusing the electoral and judicial nomination systems through both strategy and luck — is fueling a growing crisis of legitimacy in American democratic institutions across the globe. general. We saw more evidence of that crisis unfolding in the shocking Commission hearing on Jan. 6 this week, which described how close the US came to full-blown disaster during the insurgent riots of early 2021.

The currents are already poised to cross again as the court announced at the end of this term that it will hear in the next term an electoral law case that could make it easier for partisans to push electoral boundaries and even election results in the way former President Donald Trump wanted them to do in 2020.

A democratic crisis for our greatest trading partner, closest ally and oldest friend would create a crisis of sorts in Canada as well. Both because there are spillover effects on our politics (as seen in convoy protests ideologically tied to American conspiracy theorists and Canadian politicians’ embrace of Trumpian authoritarian tropes) and because our economy and diplomacy are deeply intertwined with that of the US. It’s not a problem that can be solved by a few high-profile statements with a moral purpose.

The U.S. Supreme Court is reshaping the course of American history. This week, as always, has shown that it may be doing the same, in different ways, with the trajectory of Canada’s future. As Americans struggle with how to deal with the effects, Canadian leaders will have to start thinking hard about the same question.


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