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TL;DR: This might be a moment that you feel good and satisfied in, but it is at precisely this moment that you should start making calls and knocking on doors for Congressmen. Nemesis hangs over us, and and it is likely that there will not be a better opportunity to make a difference. If you don’t already have a good candidate in mind, I’d recommend signing up to make calls for Peter Roskam (R-IL 6th).
Kavanaugh made it. It’s hard to predict precisely what will come from having a Court with five conservative justices, but it seems safe to say “a lot”.
Sometimes these victories are unadulterated. The winner entrenches the transformative and controversial success, and it becomes a part of the American way of life forever.* Sometimes, these victories are not so helpful. The winner sees their gains reversed, and suffers other difficulties alongside it.** Sometimes, the cost to the temporarily winning party is catastrophic. Most of the time, the difference comes down to the President maintaining the policy to the end of his administration and having his successor accept it.
The moment of grasping victory is not the moment at which victory is complete. If we win, take, and maintain a conservative majority on the Court, we will have done a very big thing. If we lose the next election, Thomas dies shortly afterwards, and the conservative majority is very temporary, we will not have accomplished so much, but it’s certainly better to have four justices who value the Constitution as written than to have three.
If the left’s sense of the delegitimization of the Court combines with big Democratic victories this year and in 2020 (or with a substantial Congressional majority and the Presidency in 2024 if Trump wins re-election) and Thomas appears to be in fine health, we have a much bigger problem. A united Democratic government, particularly with a supermajority, that sees its advances stymied by a Court they perceive as illegitimate is likely to consider court packing. If Trump wins re-election, replacing Thomas and Ginsburg becomes highly likely, and with it the lack of a plausible traditional path to the left’s retaking of the Court. Consider the outrage over Citizens United, which confirmed that the First Amendment did not allow the government to ban political speech, but which could be fixed by a single appointment. We are looking at a future with many such cases, and no form of redress.
FDR failed because packing is obviously terrible. It is still more clearly awful today; when FDR was considering it, the court swinging left and right wasn’t really a phenomenon familiar to American history. Today, a President Warren filling the Court with a half dozen Ocasio-Cortezes would know that the next Republican unified government would fill the Court with a dozen Cruzes. Without being able to remove justices, but regularly being able to add to them, we’d see the Court expanding geometrically. It’d take longer than one might think to become literally “The People’s Court”, in which every American was a Court justice (or, hey, maybe every human), but it would not take long for society and the economy to be wrecked.
The combination of obvious harm to the country and obvious partisanship means that it would be hard to make pursuit of packing a long term and openly held goal (and the degree to which it is a base pleasing thing means that it would have to be open). Swing state legislators would substantially endanger their careers with it. Rather, this is the sort of thing that would need to be passed in a moment of giddy enthusiasm or hot fury. When Democrats win in 2020 or 2024, as it seems likely they will eventually do, they will likely be unhinged with fury at Trump and particularly at the Court. If they are and have a substantial majority, they will likely put an end to to the Republic in recognizable form, as happened in pre-WWI Britain.
Unlike broadening access healthcare, though, Court packing is not a decades long broadly held Democratic aim. If there is merely a small majority, the dumbest of ideas are likely to find sufficient dissent that they cannot be passed. And if a plan like this fails, it will likely fail for the foreseeable future. While the Senate is relatively likely to stay Republican in 2018, 2020 has a much harder map (and 2022 harder still). If we are to make a stand in Congress, it’s plausible that it will be in the House (it’s unlikely that a Senate keen to pack courts would retain the filibuster.) The Republic has had terrifying patches of enthusiasm before. If we can avoid an unchecked demagogic stampede through our institutions, the history of these things say that we should reach a calmer equilibrium with a more conservative status quo; this is doable, but we do have to do it.
Happily, in House races individual donors and volunteers can make a substantial difference. Turnout is low, which means that get out the vote calls from human beings are more likely to change results. There’s not a lot of volunteering going on, so you’re less likely to be pushing on a string and more likely to be a voter’s decisive contact. The margins can be super low; if Martha McSally wins her Arizona Senate race this year, for instance, it will likely be because when she was running for the House in 2014 a couple of dedicated volunteers put her 121 votes ahead of her opponent.
Specifically, if you are not already invested in a particular race, I believe that it would make sense to research Peter Roskam a little, then sign up to make calls for him. Roskam is a great candidate; Senator Tammy Duckworth had her Congressional career delayed by six years by Roskam’s first Congressional victory. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), Roskam is a lot more conservative than his district and his highly educated Chicago electorate is just the sort of demographic that struggles to vote Republican right now. They’re also the sort of demographic that would most appreciate a political call coming from a politically engaged, articulate, conservative, such as Ricochet tends to attract. As the chairman of the Tax Policy Subcommittee on Ways and Means, he’s under particular fire this year, but if he weathers this moment, he is likely to keep the seat red for some time to come.
As well as being a warm body for these purposes (which, as above, really is important), Roskam is a hard working, policy oriented, passionate advocate for America. His earnest, principled, solution seeking, approach to politics is part of why he’s been able to win in landslide after landslide. Check him out on issues that are important to you (not you, Fred; you should just accept that this post is for other people). You might not find yourself in agreement with him, but you will find that if you are not, he disagrees with you thoughtfully and respectfully. When you read about him in the news, he will be a figure that you feel proud about helping.
You can make calls from home (or wherever else you happen to be with your cellphone; just go to the website below). If you happen to live near Illinois’ 6th, knocking on doors can be even more helpful. If you haven’t done it before, try it once and see how you feel about it. If you have tried before and haven’t enjoyed it, the technology is always getting better, and you may have a superior experience this time. (Certainly people won’t be as irritated by being flooded with phone calls as they are during Presidential years.) If you sign up, see if you can make a note about Ricochet and maybe a grateful Congressman will come on a podcast or two to say “thank you” or make a post.
*Into this category, I would put, for example: Jefferson’s Declaration; the Northwest Ordinance; the Federalist’s Constitution; Washington’s reduction of the senate’s role to consenting to nominees and other Constitution defining decisions; The Louisiana Purchase; Marshall’s suite of big hits; the Monroe Doctrine; Indian Removal; Van Buren’s Democratic Party; Polk’s Texan admission by Congressional Executive Agreement; Abolition; Arthur’s Pendleton Act; Cleveland’s defense against bimetallism and creation of the ICC; TR’s FDA; Wilson’s Federal Reserve; Coolidge’s Kellogg-Briand Pact; FDR’s Second New Deal; Truman’s GATT (proto-WTO) and NATO; Ike’s Interstates, Mapp, and Miranda; LBJ’s Civil Rights Act and Medicare; Nixon’s opening to China; Reagan’s employer sanctions for illegal immigration and the bulk of his tax cuts; Thomas’s Citizens United, Heller, etc.; Clinton’s Border Wall; Bush’s TSA and Iraqi Surge; and Obama’s pre-existing condition coverage. Obviously, any of the more recent things might be undone in the future; it’s tough to predict what will endure.
** Here I’d include, for example: Adam’s Alien And Sedition Acts; JQA’s Tariff of Abominations; Tyler’s Black Tariff; Buchanan’s excessive enforcement of slave owner’s rights; Johnson’s veto of the 1865 Civil Rights Act; Wilson’s New Freedom; the Mellon Tax Cuts and Hoover’s Smoot Hawley tariffs; FDR’s NIRA and Court Packing; LBJ’s Model Cities Program; Reagan’s initial SSDI crackdown; and Obama’s Individual Mandate.Published in