Independence Day Or Not? Recent Decisions of the Supreme Court

Speaking for myself, I have been operating this past week in a kind of low functioning stupor. I have had a hard time sleeping (although not that uncommon for me) but more importantly,  I have been having a hard time concentrating and getting down to work – something that is rarely a problem for me. My mind wanders as I watch people go about their business, perhaps preparing for their July 4th weekend holiday and I wonder how they can be so oblivious to what is happening around us. My world, our daughters’ world, our sons’ world, our world in every sense – has shifted; and not in a positive way. I know to, that everyone, like me, has business to take care of and that they too may be equally distressed. I know that we each must take care of ourselves, rest and prepare for the long road ahead and each of us must do this in our own way. But, this doesn’t bring me relief. Instead it seems to only add to my angst.

The decision to overturn Roe Vs Wade made possible by an emboldened Supreme Court,  has, in my opinion, put religious beliefs directly at its center.  Their recent (6/30/22) West Virginia Vs EPA decision seems too, at some base level, to swing this way as well. More on this a little later.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel strongly that a person who has strong religious beliefs should be free to espouse them and practice them – in their own home and in their house of worship. The freedom to practice the religion of your choice, is what democracy is all about.  However, when someone’s religious beliefs infringe on the rights of others, that is where a line must be drawn. In the United States, the idea of the separation of “church and state” has long been an accepted delineation, particularly as it relates to rulings of our court system.

According to Wikipedia, “The separation of church and state is a philosophic and jurisprudential concept for defining political distance in the relationship between religious organizations and the state. Conceptually, the term refers to the creation of a secular state (with or without legally explicit church-state separation) and to disestablishment, the changing of an existing, formal relationship between the church and the state. Although the concept is older, the exact phrase “separation of church and state” is derived from “a wall of separation between church and state,” a term coined by Thomas Jefferson.” We, in the United States have operated under the concept that this separation is paramount. While this concept hasn’t always been put into practice, particularly by lower courts, it is what we have come to expect from our highest court. There is a small but vocal and clearly powerful minority that wants to see this expectation changed and tampered.

This current Supreme Court is muddying the waters as it allows the mixing up of these separate powers. It’s worth remembering the court now includes 5 justices who were appointed by 2 Presidents (George W Bush and Donald Trump) neither of whom won the popular vote and therefore didn’t represent the majority will of the people of the United States. Undeterred, the Court seem emboldened to take away the separation of church and state and to put in place laws based on their personally (Christian) held values. Rather than set precedents that are based on where we are at as a pluralistic and multiethnic society, they are finding their strength in words, language and ideas of men who ruled this country more than 200 years ago. Those men were most often religious, with the Christian church holding a strong pull. Women at that time were not treated equally at home nor by the law. They did not have the right to vote, to hold property, nor did they sit in seats of power in the church, judicially or economically.  Women in the USA have come along way from this time. However, with the recent ruling that negates Roe vs Wade,  women in many states once again have the inability to control what happens to their own bodies; this will impact their lives in innumerable ways, emotionally, financially and in all likelihood their ability to advance professionally as they work through the responsibilities and emotional traumas of unwanted pregnancies. These justices have changed a long-established law that the vast majority of American held to be true and solid. They have also put in motion a law that take away the equality that women have long fought for and in many respects achieved.  This precedent setting decision was made on the same day that gun laws were relaxed in a country overrun with mass murders and gun violence and that our Miranda rights – the right to representation when arrested for a crime and not yet found guilty, have also been loosened.

As it relates to West Virginia Vs the EPA, or the decision that was taken by the Supreme Court on 6/30/22 to regulate the EPA’s ability to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, this too has been years in the making. Some, who have backed this, hold the view that God has put our natural resources on this planet specifically for man’s use and this use shouldn’t be curtailed. The judeo/christian bible is sited as “proof” of this and this loose understanding seems to be applied to everything from fossil fuels to water to land and more. This too has its roots  in the same  belief that we, as humans, are too insignificant to alter our planet’s climate and that God will prevail, protect us and look after us. These beliefs align with the blurring of the concept of Church and State separation and are intertwined with greed, the belief in no government regulation and in the power of a few (who see themselves as superior – perhaps chosen by God)  to control the power of the many.

In stating their ruling on this case, the Supreme Court majority invoked the “Major Question Doctrine” something which remains to be fully define. This idea, that major “novel” decisions – in this case it seems those related to addressing climate change – need to be deferred to Congress for guidance. This goes against everything that we have been building our federal government to do. As everything from chemicals, to pollutants that impact clean air and water, to financial mechanisms, to technology, has gotten more complicated, agencies and departments have been created and evolved,  staffed by nonpolitical staff who develop expertise over a lifetime in the areas they are tasked with creating regulations around.   These government agencies, not Congress nor the Supreme Court, are the mechanisms that have been established to advise Congress and the Court, not the other way around. Congress has authority to set funding for these agencies, to push them to do more and these are some of the ways Congress can control them. However, as Justice Kagan said: “Whatever else this Court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change,” Kagan wrote in a dissenting opinion, joined by the court’s two other liberals, Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. She continued: “And let’s say the obvious: The stakes here are high. Yet the Court today prevents congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions. The Court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.” This decision therefore sets up and emboldens many other industries to question the authority of government agencies to regulate them.

In both these decisions,  justice or rather injustice plays a big part. Who suffers most and most immediately from these decisions? On reproductive rights it is those women with the least resources to be able to go to another state for an abortion, to put themselves up in a hotel, to pay for travel, or with no local options for proper health care and counseling,  to be forced to carry a pregnancy to term – a pregnancy they don’t want for a wide range of reasons deeply personal to them, that should have nothing to do with government control over what an individual does with their own body.  With the EPA decision, again who is impacted first and worst? It will be those in the vicinity of the power plants that can’t be regulated. Usually these plants are built in low wealth communities, those communities that were least able to put up a fight to stop them from being built in the first place or to control the pollution emitted once they are put into operation. Both of these decisions impact climate justice.  They take away tools in our toolkit to slow down the climate polluting industries and limit women’s advancement.  Also, in many cases, these very same polluting power plants can exacerbate negative health impacts for  pregnant women.  For a deeper dive and more details on why women as it relates to climate justice, check out Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network. 

Some things to think about as we settle in to our Independence Day weekend.




Climate Mama

P.S. Check in next week for a post on solutions and ideas to being more involved in protecting and standing up for our democracy and freedoms. In the meantime feel free to send us your thoughts and ideas, we will be happy to share them.

Statue of Liberty Photo by Fabian Fauth on Unsplash

Mountain Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

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