WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) released a new report detailing how special interests’ campaign to capture our courts has tilted the playing field against critical civil rights protections to ensure equality for all Americans. As President Trump and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rush to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, the senators’ report shows how anonymously funded groups have systematically undermined vital legal protections that ensure equal justice under law—a bedrock principle for our democracy. As a consequence, workers, racial minorities, women, immigrants, and religious minorities are fighting to maintain an equal footing in American society, the senators wrote.
Equal Justice Under Law: How captured courts tilt the playing field against America’s most vulnerable is the latest in Senate Democrats’ Captured Courts reports, which pull back the curtain on the special interest forces seeking to influence the federal judiciary to achieve outcomes that would be impossible to enact through Congress or the executive branch.
“Today’s report sheds light on a reality that will be unsurprising for many Americans – that our nation’s legal system fails to uphold the principle of equal justice for all,” said Senator Cardin. “President Trump’s appointed judges have worked tirelessly to roll back protections against discrimination and police misconduct, and to eliminate affirmative action programs. It is critical that we understand these attacks so that we can begin to reverse the damage that has been done.”
“Etched in stoned above the entrance to the Supreme Court is an aspiration and a promise — ‘Equal Justice Under Law,’ but unfortunately it is a promise that has yet to be kept for far too many Americans, particularly the most vulnerable among us,” said Senator Booker. “For years, dark-money and anonymously funded special interest groups have helped to shift the balance of our courts further and further from fulfilling this promise. This report lays bare the consequences of these actions and what it is now at stake for the American people as Senate Republicans try to rush a nomination through that will further tip the balance of the Court toward special interests and away from the promise of equal justice under law.”
“Equal protection under law is a fundamental American value. Without it, we could never bend the moral arc of the country toward a more just and equal society,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Big corporate and partisan special interests have spent decades building a sophisticated, dark-money campaign to capture our courts and undermine equal protections for the American people. Now, Republicans are fighting to jam Judge Barrett onto the Court and cement a 6-3 majority poised to accelerate that court capture scheme. This report uncovers the rot underneath that rushed process – so that the American people can stand up and say ‘enough.’ ”
“Our fundamental civil rights are under attack by an activist, reactionary, right-wing judiciary backed by powerful special interests,” said Senator Blumenthal. A dark money-fueled partisan political agenda has captured the very judges and justices charged with administering that solemn creed of equal justice. The bedrock freedoms that define “equal justice under the law” are not self-enforcing – and if our courts are unwilling or unable to protect them, the rights to marry who you love, to freely participate in our democracy, to access education and healthcare, and so much more are all at risk.”
“We cannot make progress until we acknowledge and tackle all of the ways that systemic bigotry and oppression have affected the lives of marginalized Americans and immigrants – their health, job opportunities, housing, education, generational wealth and so much more,” said Senator Brown. “Hard-fought progress to establish fundamental civil rights and equal justice can be undermined or wiped out swiftly in the courts. We saw it in 2013 when the conservatives on the court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, based on the demonstrably false notion that racism is no longer a problem in our society. That’s why this effort to cut the American people out of the process of deciding who will select he next Supreme Court justice is abhorrent. We cannot allow Mitch McConnell to stack the court with another Trump nominee who wants to undermine health care, civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, and so much more.”
“Since the Citizens United decision, secret money has flooded into our elections, and has been used to block — and roll back – vital civil rights protections. This dark money, and the special interests behind it, have undermined America’s core principle of ‘equal justice under the law’. This report highlights this harm and underscores the urgent need to end this corrosive solvent eating away at our democracy. But instead of recognizing this danger and working to address it, Republicans are barreling towards Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation – which would only make matters worse. We must continue fighting her nomination in order to advance the mission of providing equal justice under the law,” said Senator Van Hollen
Key Takeaways from Equal Justice Under Law
Affirmative Action & School Integration
Ever since the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education invalidated the Jim Crow standard of “separate but equal” education, the so-called conservative legal movement has worked tirelessly to resist the integration of America’s education system; beginning with massive resistance from the outset. Recent efforts have been heavily funded by elements of the corporate right—groups like the Koch political operation’s DonorsTrust, and the DeVos Foundation—which have perpetuated racial segregation by advancing concepts like libertarianism and “school choice.”
Even as Republican-appointed Supreme Court Justices worked to end racial classifications that seek to achieve diversity in education and other settings, they have been more than willing to look the other way when confronted with discrimination in the workplace, at the ballot box, and at the border. Thanks to the Republican-appointed majority, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, women and minorities face more and higher hurdles to prove their discrimination claims in court.
As our nation grapples with police misconduct and its effect on communities of color, we cannot overlook the role our courts have played. Indifference to the lived experience of minorities combined with excessive deference to government actors—regardless of motive—closed the courtroom door to lawsuits that could drive real reforms and provide justice to victims of misconduct by law enforcement officers.
There is one set of discrimination claims that the Supreme Court’s Republican majority has shown particular sympathy for: religious liberty. While the Court has dialed back protection of minority groups, it has dialed up concern over perceived discrimination based on faith. Along the way, the Court has created religious rights for corporations (soulless entities by their very nature), and eroded the Constitution’s separation between church and state.
Who’s Behind It
The various threads of the Trump judiciary’s denial of equal justice under law—from its assault on affirmative action, to its unwillingness to check police misconduct, to its systematic preferential treatment of Christian “religious liberty” interests—may seem disconnected. But a look behind the curtain reveals the same cabal of corporate and Republican special interests fueling this work.
What to Expect
Under Republican control, the federal government will make discrimination worse; the Roberts Court will look the other way.
Read the full report here.