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The Democrats Did Nothing to Stop Amy Coney Barrett’s Confirmation

Yesterday, Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in to the Supreme Court. The Democrats put up little resistance, proving that they are the party of the ruling class. We can’t count on the Democrats or the Supreme Court to secure our rights.

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Woman holding up her hand in front of three men
Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP

Last night, anti-worker, anti-choice, right-wing zealot Amy Coney Barret was confirmed to the Supreme Court. It’s no exaggeration to say that this will put our most basic rights at risk. To begin with, Coney Barrett is strongly, vocally, and clearly anti-choice. But she’s also anti-worker and anti-immigrant, ruling against migrants and refugees, upholding cruel mandatory minimum sentences and segregated workplaces. Some argue that she is even to the right of her ultra-right wing mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia. She, like Scalia, calls herself an “originalist,” attempting to literally interpret what the slave-owning founding fathers wrote into the constitution. The term is often used as a “philosophical fig leaf” for implementing reactionary conservative policies. 

On top of this, she’s young and on the Supreme Court for life. At just 48 years old — a few years younger than two other Trump appointees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — she has the potential to push the court to the right for decades to come and hand down countless reactionary rulings that will be devastating to working-class and oppressed people. And she’ll sit on the court with not one, but two men accused of sexual assault and harassment: Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.

That’s how undemocratic the Supreme Court is. An unelected judge — one of at least four justices on the Supreme Court who were appointed by a president who lost the popular vote — can make decisions for decades about basic civil rights. We can’t recall her, or anyone else on the Court. They were voted on by the most undemocratic chamber in Congress, the Senate, where votes from people of color are vastly under-represented. Wyoming, one of the whitest states, has a population smaller than that of the average California congressional district. Nonetheless, Wyoming has as much representation in the Senate as California and New York.

This Senate just went on recess, again without providing any aid to the working class people struggling in the midst of the pandemic and economic crisis. And further, Barrett was pushed through in the midst of an election that may overturn the Republican majority in the Senate and put Joe Biden in the Presidency. 

This undemocratic Supreme Court has been the source of many attacks against working-class and oppressed people, such as curtailing voting rights in Alabama and Wisconsin, restricting abortion access, and exempting religious institutions from federal anti-discrimination laws. It will likely be the source of more with this new ultra-conservative majority. 

Where are the Democrats? 

Some Democrats have made it clear how terrible Coney Barrett’s appointment would be. Democratic Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, admitted that “A vote for Judge Barrett is a vote for repealing the ACA. And a vote for a conservative activist judge that will revisit, reconsider and repeal long-standing precedent.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went further, saying

“Everything hangs in the balance with this nomination: a woman’s constitutional right to make her own medical decisions about her body, the right of LGBTQ Americans to marry who they love, the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain for fair wages, the future of our planet and environmental protections, voting rights and the right of every American to have a voice in our democracy.”

These Democratic politicians aren’t wrong — they are right to fear the devastating effects of Coney Barrett’s presence on the Supreme Court. She really is this bad.

However, what has been startling has been the complete lack of a fight by the Democratic Party against this nomination. The Democrats vowed from the start that they would focus on their issues with the process of the hearings, rather than on Coney Barrett’s beliefs. Despite Democrats raising alarm about what’s at stake with a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court, politicians like Joe Biden went as far as to say that she is a “fine person,” minimizing the threat that she poses to working-class and oppressed people. And although Speaker Pelosi assured us that Democrats would use “every arrow in [their] quiver” to block Barrett’s nomination, their grandiose battle was not voting to advance Coney Barrett to a vote, leaving photos of people who might be affected by her position on the court in their seats . 

This was a meaningless, symbolic protest made for TV while real lives are on the line. 

What was even more jarring was the complete refusal to organize any sort of protest. A few small protests were held and a few people were even arrested at direct actions. But the Democrats and their proxy organizations — the non-profits that support them and the labor unions who canvass for them — didn’t do much of anything to stop the nomination. They couldn’t muster the energy to organize a single large protest — or even a single national protest to fight the nomination of this ultra-right wing Supreme Court justice.

Many folks may be feeling the oft-repeated despair that the Democrats are just inept, bad politicians. Or that they’re spineless cowards, who are too scared to stand up for the Party and for their base.

But this is a far too favorable reading of what the Democratic Party is. They aren’t inept or spineless. They are, at their core, a party of the ruling class, and Coney Barrett’s appointment is ultimately not a threat to them. She is no threat to the capitalist, imperialist world order which Democrats support and uphold. The threat of a conservative Supreme Court is a way to energize voters to vote for the Democrats, not one the Democratic Party is interested in really fighting.

Democrats notably weren’t inept at all when it came to stopping Bernie Sanders’ nomination in both 2016 and 2020. In this election cycle, they moved quickly and skillfully after Sanders began to win primaries. They effectively laid the groundwork to fight Sanders and, within a few days, had crushed the insurgent campaign and consolidated support around Joe Biden. It all happened in the blink of an eye — like a sharp shooter, they took down the campaign and convinced Sanders to stump for Biden from the get go. He’s played a central role in trying to paint Biden as left and get out the vote for the former Vice President who has run an increasingly center-right campaign. 

Likewise, they were not inept when it came to getting the Black Lives Matter movement out of the streets and into the voting booths — convincing the millions of people who protested that the logical next step was to vote for a racist (Joe Biden) and a Cop (Kamala Harris). In an extremely talented political maneuver, they were able to spend the entire summer instituting curfews, arresting and tear gassing protesters and, somehow, convinced people that the real enemy of Black Lives Matter was just the Trump administration— rather than both parties. The Democrats are extremely talented at convincing people they need to take their “power to the polls.” In fact, that was the slogan of the 2018 Women’s March, which did bring a record number of women to the polls to vote for the Democrats in 2018, but the Women’s March did very little to resist Barret’s nomination now. And now, the Dems are set to do it again. 

In fact, the labor unions who they feign ineptitude at mobilizing are currently organizing phone banking and door knocking for the Democrats. There are paid staffers who take up this task. Democrats are not inept at mobilizing to confront actual threats to their interests and agenda. They are just playing on the same capitalist, imperialist side as the Republicans — with some squabbles no doubt, but on the same side. And it’s not our side. 

We Can Fight

But it is possible to fight Amy Coney Barrett and the Supreme Court without relying on the Democrats. In fact, while the Court seems like an insurmountable obstacle, the progressive decisions like the right to an abortion and desegration cases that were made in the Supreme Court weren’t a result of benevolent justices, but of mass movements.. Our rights have been the result of hard-fought victories by the working class, not gifts handed down by the Supreme Court.

In this sense, it’s very important that progressives take lessons from what we are experiencing now — the Democrats are not a bulwark against the Right. Although they pretend to be fighters on our side, they are only feigning helplessness to win your vote. When it comes to repressing our movements, they are strong, powerful, and politically very savvy. 

But we are also very strong: the working class runs all of society, and we produce everything and make it run. Our protests in the streets can shut down cities and make the politicians tremble. Around the world, we’ve seen massive movements for reproductive rights, like when hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Argentina and in Ireland. If we want to defend our right to choose and to defend immigrants’ rights and the rights of the working class, we’ll have to rely on our own strength, not put false hope in the Democratic Party. 

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Otto Fors

Otto is a college professor in the New York area.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.

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