Our Democracy in Peril as Republicans Prepare for Minority Rule

A tilted playing field and the Building blocks of minority rule.
A tilted playing field on the building blocks of minority rule. Source: FiveThirtyEight

There are reasons why Republicans are okay with jeopardizing the right to an abortion, which is supported by a majority of Americans.

Our polarized nation seems to be united over something, ever since the Supreme Court of the United States held that women of this country have a fundamental right to have an abortion. According to a May 6 report by Pew Research Center, “A majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.” That’s six in 10 Americans.

The public reaction to the leaked first draft of a Supreme Court opinion rendered by Justice Samuel Alito, which would strike down Roe vs. Wade in its tracks, falls in line with the longtime majority consensus that women (and their doctors) should be in charge of their medical care.

A recent CNN poll indicates that Americans are broadly opposed to overturning Roe. The numbers: 66% say Roe should not be completely stuck down and 59% would support congressional intervention to establish a nationwide right to abortion.

State Legislatures Don’t Care

These nuggets of information don’t seem to bother a number of Republican-controlled state legislatures, which are racing to the bottom to come up with the most draconian restrictions on abortion rights. The winner thus far seems to be Louisiana, whose House committee recently voted 7-2 to charge women who get an abortion with homicide.

Fortunately, Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards, an anti-abortion Democrat, has vowed to veto the bill, calling it “problematic.”

SCOTUS Doesn’t Care

Rather than acknowledging that Roe was “an important precedent [which] has been on the books for a long time,” which he stated at his 2006 confirmation hearing, Justice Alito wrote in the draft opinion, “the decision has had damaging consequences…And far from bringing a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe…has enflamed debate and deepened divisions.”

That’s odd. For a half-century, a vast majority of Americans have done just fine living with the 1973 Supreme Court decision. The current discontent over abortion was perhaps manufactured by, “the unprecedented ruthlessness in refusing to allow a Democratic president to fill an open seat” on the Court…then hypocritically reversing course to allow an election year appointment to attain a “conservative Supreme Court supermajority…appointed by a president who lost the popular vote, confirmed by GOP senators who represent a national minority…enacting a conservative legal revolution the public never asked for.”

This is what minority rule looks like.

Demonstration for Roe v. Wade
Reaction to the leaked opinion in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Source: USA Today

It reminds me of that old (1976) Saturday Night Live skit with Lily Tomlin as a spokesperson for the then-monopolistic phone company. Her punch line: “We don’t care. We don’t have to.”

Republicans Don’t Care

The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government.

Thomas Jefferson, 1801

You probably will not find Jefferson’s quote behind the desk of any Republican officeholder. The GOP has long since dropped any pretense of trying to appeal to a majority of Americans. Despite the growth of urban and suburban areas that are increasingly populated by young people, people of color and immigrants, the structure of this country’s political institutions resoundingly favors older and white Americans.

Republicans don’t care. They don’t have to. Here are the components of minority rule:

The US Senate

Our Founding Fathers, who gave two Senate seats to each state, couldn’t have possibly foreseen the modern-day quandary that 40 million Californians, mostly Democrats, get the same representation in the Upper House of Congress as the 580,000 residents of Wyoming, most of them Republicans.

Democratic senators represent 41 million more Americans, though their vote counts the same.

White power in the US Senate.
The lower chart is purely speculative…grain of salt is recommended. Source: Mother Jones
The Electoral College

A relic of a time when Black people counted as three-fifths of a person, the Electoral College continues to have built-in unfairness. Each of the 50 states is allocated presidential electors equal to the number of its House representatives and its two Senators.

That’s the problem: each state gets an automatic two electoral votes regardless of its size. This favors states with smaller populations. It’s a close call but the Electoral College favors red and red/purple states.

The last two Republican presidents took office despite having lost the popular vote.

Gerrymandering

Prominent in the leaked opinion, Justice Alito suggests that if voters don’t want their states to ban abortion, they should elect representatives who will vote to safeguard it. That is laughable on its face: Alito is either naive about contemporary politics, or is “pulling our leg.”

Thanks in large part to recent Supreme Court decisions (especially the 2013 Shelby County vs. Holder) that have given state legislatures “nearly free rein to restrict voting, gerrymander in a hyperpartisan fashion or otherwise insulate themselves from democratic accountability,” it has become a matter of voters don’t select their candidates, but instead candidates select their voters.

Anti-gerrymandering protest in Wisconsin.
More than 100 opponents of the Republican redistricting plans vow to fight the maps at a rally ahead of a joint legislative committee hearing at the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer,)
Wisconsin, for Example

In the great state of Wisconsin, polls indicate that most adults there support a woman’s right to have an abortion. Democrats in Wisconsin can claim one US Senate seat and the governorship. It’s a 50-50 purple state that, in the interest of fairness, involved the state supreme court and the governor in the tortuous process of drawing legislative maps for the next decade.

In the end, it didn’t matter. Last month, the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected the map drawn by Governor Tony Evers and instead chose the redistricting map drawn by GOP lawmakers. The numbers are eye-opening: Republicans could expect to win 63 out of 99 House assembly seats and 23 out of 33 Senate seats…in a state won (narrowly) by Democrat Joe Biden.

Given those numbers, how could abortion rights possibly get passed in Wisconsin?

Very similar scenarios are playing out in Ohio and North Carolina. What say you now, Justice Alito?

Controlling the Election Machinery

Donald Trump and his confederates seem determined to loosen the guardrails that made the 2020 election “the most secure in American history,” according to Trump’s own undersecretary of Homeland Security, who was promptly fired for uttering the remark.

Conservatives have suddenly discovered their inner civic virtue and are signing up to be elections precinct officers in all parts of the country. I sounded the alarm in a December 7, 2021 article, which you can read here. It’s not too late to get on board where you live.

What Is to be Done?

So, how do we fight back? The last word goes to Ari Berman of Mother Jones:

The only real way to reverse minority rule is through big structural reforms, like abolishing the Electoral College, eliminating the filibuster, ending partisan gerrymandering, enshrining a fundamental right to vote in a Constitutional Amendment, and giving statehood to Washington, DC and Puerto Rico to make the Senate more reflective of the country…Republicans have little incentive to adopt these reforms when they can consistently hold power without winning a majority of votes or appealing to a majority of Americans.

Until democracy breaks them, they’ll continue to break democracy.

Ari Berman, Mother Jones

Andrew Goutman

Andrew Goutman is the editor of The Record.

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