An election for President of the United States is normally all about the candidates who are running; their personal character; their positions on a wide range of issues; and which candidate can beat all the other candidates with the most votes in the Electoral College. For about five months now, Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have been saying the 2016 election is all about Donald Trump, his positions on a wide range of issues, and winning the election. With the Trump candidacy now in deep trouble over Trump’s behavior and his alleged moral flaws, Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have changed their tune in just the past few weeks. They are now saying the 2016 election is, and we quote, “all about the U.S. Supreme Court.” What do they mean by that? Well, let us first discuss the purpose and structure of the U.S. Supreme Court in American government and the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution as necessary prerequisites to answering this question. Then we will answer the question.
Our nation’s founding fathers established the U.S. Supreme Court in the original and unamended U.S. Constitution (1787-1789). British journalist and historian Alistair Cooke has noted that the U.S. Supreme Court is the only branch of American government that is a uniquely American invention. In all of human history prior to 1787, nothing like it had ever been seen in any world government. As Cooke further noted, the founding fathers, in part, created the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government to keep a watchful eye and check on the powers and actions of the U.S. Congress. Similarly, the U.S. Congress was established to keep an eye and check on the powers and actions of the President of the United States. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court was created to be keep a watchful eye and check on the powers and actions of both the President and the U.S. Congress.
The U.S. Congress has specified that the high court shall consist of nine judges (one Chief Justice and eight Justices). This odd number was selected to prevent any tie votes on legal issues before the court. The U.S. Constitution specifies that each judge on the high court shall be appointed for a life-long term. This means a judge with a continuously sharp mind and no serious criminal record can be appointed to the high court at age 37 and remain in their position on the high court until they die at age 123. The founding fathers did this intentionally to ensure the justices on the high court would be independent and insulated from the grinding maw of partisan politics and the flaming passions of the American people on controversial legal issues. The high court was created to exist and function in a position of legal supremacy (hence the word “Supreme” in the high court’s name). This means that the founding fathers gave the U.S. Supreme Court the power to look into the U.S. Constitution, as the judges on the high court understand it, and make the final and immutable decisions on controversial legal issues concerning the operations of the U.S. Government; the rights and everyday lives of the American people; and the functioning of various American organizations and activities. The founding fathers knew that controversial legal issues would arise in the future of the new American republic, and they would require a final legal decision. They created the U.S. Supreme Court specifically to make those final legal decisions.
Another portion of the original and unamended U.S. Constitution supports the daily work of the U.S. Supreme Court and all the other federal courts beneath it. It is called the Supremacy Clause. (There is that word Supreme again, and it means just what it says.) The Supremacy Clause reads as follows:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
What does that mean? Basically, it means that all treaties, constitutional laws, federal regulations (which have the power of law), and federal court rulings at all levels of the federal judicial system have supreme legal power and authorities over all laws, court rulings, and regulations created by state and local governments throughout the United States. For example, in June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges ruled that gay marriage was legal throughout the United States. Prior to this ruling, at the urging of fundie bigots, some states had already passed laws making gay marriage illegal at the state level. After the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, angry fundie bigots in other states urged the passage of new state laws to end gay marriage. This made all the fundie bigots very happy, but that happiness was based on ignorance, and it was to be only temporary. Under the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution, it is grossly illegal for any state or local government to enact a law or ordinance, promulgate a regulation, or make a court ruling that countermands or otherwise defies a federal law, federal regulation, or federal court ruling. This means that these state anti-gay marriage laws are not worth the paper they are written on, and they are inevitably destined for the ash can of American history when they hit the federal courts. To use an old cliché: “They do not have a snowball’s chance in Hell of surviving.”
Why did some state legislators pass anti-gay marriage laws they knew were illegal? It was one of the oldest and most deceiving political maneuvers in the book. It was done to trick their ignorant, fundie bigot constituents into thinking they were doing something to support them on gay marriage when they were really doing nothing at all to truly help them. In the shady and lying trade of American politics, this is called feel good legislation. The politician makes an empty promise or passes a powerless law to placate his ignorant constituents, who know little or nothing about legal matters, thus assuring that these duped constituents will vote for him in the next election. Politicians regularly lie like Satan to Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals just to get their votes—and the gullible fundies have been stupid enough to swallow these lies like ravening dogs for the past 46 years.
With that foundation laid, we can now go back to our original question. Why do the Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals believe the 2016 presidential election is now all about the U.S. Supreme Court?
Prior to the 2016 election season, Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals made a dubious political calculation that the American people were just as bigoted, tired, and angry with the Obama administration as they were. Historically, most eight-year presidential administrations had ended with the election of a President who is a member of the opposing major party. Therefore, the election of a fundie friendly Republican President was seen as a nearly certain deal in 2016. At that time the U.S. Supreme Court consisted of four progressive justices the fundies viewed as their enemies and the enemies of God and four conservative justices they viewed as their friends and the friends of God. They viewed the ninth justice as a lukewarm, semi-progressive, tie-breaking justice (Anthony Kennedy) who was a real risk to vote either for or against the fundie viewpoint (and God) on a controversial legal issue. The fundies were well aware that some of the progressive justices, such as Ruth Bader Ginsberg, were quite old and likely to die off during the next administration. If the next administration was going to be a sure-fire Republican administration friendly to the fundies, which they firmly believed was going to happen, then the new President would replace the dying-off progressive and semi-progressive justices with highly conservative justices friendly to the fundies, thus giving them a majority of judges on the high court. Just like in a game of eight ball in billiards, all these fundie justices would then be able to “run the table” in favor of the fundies. This would occur with regard to upcoming controversial legal issues, and it would allow them to reverse many decades of past U.S. Supreme Court rulings that ran counter to fundie causes and beliefs. Everything seemed to be going well in Fundieland, but then a funny thing happened on the way to the forum in Washington, D.C.
During the 2016 election season, a fundie national hero died. He was U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, an abrasive, curmudgeonly, and unbudging old judge known for what looked like knee-jerk voting in favor of the fundie viewpoint on nearly all legal issues. Effectively, Scalia was the fundie hanging judge. His sudden and unexpected death sent a lightning strike of fear racing through the fundie ranks all across the United States. It was the hated progressive and semi-progressive justices like Ginsberg and Anthony Kennedy who were supposed to die off—not their beloved fundie friendly justices. (Given the ages of the conservative justices like Scalia, it is a wonder to me why the fundies seemed to think the grim reaper would never touch their favorite justices.) With President Obama still in office, he could appoint a progressive justice to replace Scalia, thus potentially creating a progressive-dominated U.S. Supreme Court. Then the biggest shock of all finally began to dawn on the fundies a few weeks ago when it became clear that Donald Trump’s candidacy was in real and unfixable trouble. You may see the current election numbers here:
If Hillary Clinton were elected President of the United States instead of Trump, fundie plans to stack the high court with fundie friendly justices would be shattered like glass. Hillary would do the stacking heavily in favor of progressive justices, and if all her appointees were young enough and could be approved by the U.S. Senate, they could dominate the high court for 50 years or more. Fundie plans to stack the high court in their own favor would be dead in the water. Their plans to reverse Roe v. Wade, Obergefell v. Hodges, and numerous other past anti-fundie rulings by the federal courts would be shot, caput, and dead as a doornail. Enter the fundie primal scream!!!
The 2016 election was no longer about Trump per se. The fundies had to find a way to get their flagging candidate elected so he could stack the U.S. Supreme Court for them. Suddenly, making the election all about the U.S. Supreme Court might somehow motivate voters to run to Trump and fulfill their fundie legal dreams. Nine conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices would then be lined up in a nice little row to support all the fundies—and screw the rest of the American people. After all, in the view of many fundies, the United States was established as a Christian nation where no one else really deserves any rights under the U.S. Constitution except the fundies—and their stacked U.S. Supreme Court would see to it.
In Part 2 of this series, coming up in a few days, we will look at why the Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have such a rabid thirst for political power. In part 3, we will examine the various legal issues the Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are desperate to head off at the pass or see reversed under a U.S. Supreme Court stacked with justices friendly to them and their causes. In saying that, we bold and underline the word desperate because the U.S. Supreme Court has a decades-long history of ruling against Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals on legal issues. There is a very good reason for this. When it gets down to brass legal tacks, a majority of the justices has, for the most part, consistently found the legal and political agenda of the fundies to be vacuous and legally dangerous to traditional American liberties and freedoms, including religious freedom. Here at the Flee from Christian Fundamentalism blog, we agree with those past U.S. Supreme Court rulings, and we intend to see to it that traditional liberties remain for all Americans because the U.S. Constitution was written to serve all of the American people—not just a fundie religious minority that has chosen to self-righteously proclaim itself the exclusive little darlings of God.