Trying to keep up with the Supreme Court decisions rolling out at the end of the current term is like trying to stay upright as the ground beneath me shifts.
Two recent decisions and one looming have me seeing the radical shift (think earthquake) in the court. The recent appointments by the last president are settling in, and not in a good way.
This is a layman’s read of what has happened.
In Marietta Memorial Hospital Employee Health Benefit Plan v. DaVita Inc, the Supreme Court authorized private insurance companies to dump more expensive provisions for care of policyholders.
Specifically, this ruling allowed an insurance company to exclude a life-saving treatment for people who needed dialysis. In other words, the Supreme Court has begun to roll back one of the great features of the Affordable Care Act, which would not allow insurance companies to exclude pre-existing conditions.
Such a ruling allows private insurances to carve out the more expensive illnesses, exclude them and, in case of dialysis patients, push them over to Medicare. The issue is complicated by Republicans in Congress who want to cut Medicare funding.
So, on the one hand, private insurance can maximize profits by pushing expensive treatments to Medicare, if not excluding them entirely, while elected officials in Congress are working to gut Medicare.
This is personal to me. When my father died in 1982 from cancer of the larynx, he had exhausted most of his insurance coverage. He believed in good insurance because, as a returning veteran, Veterans Affairs was unsatisfactory with his care.
So, with great insurance, a single terminal illness maxed out the limits of his insurance. It was a different time, but I can’t help but wonder what would have happened to my mom if their insurance company had abandoned them after the diagnosis. That is what the Supreme Court’s ruling has given insurance companies the liberty to do.
The second ruling turns to the First Amendment and tuition assistance for religious education in private schools.
In Carson vs Makin, the court ruled that Maine’s public education funds could be accessed by families who wanted private school education instead of either public education or secondary secular private school choices.
In Maine, half of the school districts, mostly in rural areas, do not operate their own high schools. So, Maine created a voucher system for parents who want to use private secular schools, but only non-sectarian private schools qualified.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of school choice advocates, saying that limiting vouchers to secular education discriminated against families who chose religious options. I find that ruling profoundly troubling.
Historically, the framers of the Constitution wisely saw what happens when two great powers get enmeshed: the power of the state and the power of the church (religion/faith). With great care, they sought to create a system in which church and state did not end up in a toxic swamp of enmeshed roots.
Conservatives have chaffed under this because, frankly, they seem to lack confidence in their religious institutions and religious life. It appears they don’t believe that God and the church are up to the challenge of a world in which religion does not saturate every hour, every institution, every corner of the culture. Apparently, they feel that God needs help.
So, evangelicals and extreme social conservatives have been at war with public education since the 1980s. They have tried to drain public school funding by diverting tax dollars to charter schools, voucher programs and private schools. Now, they are assaulting public school funding by including religious institutions, which provide some religious education as a part of their curriculum.
I believe Americans have a constitutional right not to be taxed to support religion of any kind. For that reason, I have supported efforts to block taking public school tax funding and distributing it to religious primary education.
I also believe that diverting tax dollars to religious schools impoverishes the public education system, which is still the best hope and opportunity for all to take a step up in life.
Third, looming on the horizon is the expected Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which would effectively overturn Roe vs Wade and require each state to set its own policy.
When questioned about Roe during the confirmation hearings, Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett all affirmed, in their own way, that it was established law and precedent. Yet, they are now poised to join other conservative justices in overturning this decision.
It is troubling when justices lie. The shocking lack of integrity should trouble us all. However, there is a more troubling reality that I’ll outline in a few simple statements.
First, if Roe is overturned by the Dobbs ruling, it will open the door to even more radical legislation, which is moving toward criminalizing abortion.
The merciless laws requiring women who have been raped to have no choice but to carry a fetus they never wanted from an encounter they never wanted to term, is criminal. Having sat with rape victims as they processed what happened is sobering and gut wrenching.
If Roe is overturned, we’re all likely to hear about someone’s daughter or granddaughter being forced to make a decision either to carry a fetus from a violent rape to term or to become a “murderer.”
This is beyond the pale. Yet, it is a decision, a punishment, that could become reality in many states due to the policies and court decisions of conservative lawmakers and justices, and the voters who supported them.
There is no science behind these overly restrictive laws. Science cannot tell us with certainty when an egg becomes a soul. The argument for life beginning at conception is a religious tenet, sadly metastasized from Catholic theology to evangelicalism. Yet, states, and now courts, are enforcing religious dogma with profound implications for women only.
There is also little public support for such policies. These are minority views being forced on the majority, as a strong majority supports access to legal abortion with certain restrictions.
Finally, there is no comparable situation in which a man would be required to surrender his bodily autonomy to the state.
I fear these two rulings, and the forthcoming ruling in Dobbs, will not be the end of the earthquake emanating from the court in the years to come.