“So you say you want a revolution.” When they sang those lines, the Beatles could well have been talking about Democratic leaders today. Revolution seems much in the minds and the rhetoric of politicians who are continuing to threaten swift responses to the Court if it rules against their wishes. The latest armchair revolutionary is President Joe Biden himself who went on Jimmy Kimmel to do the first sit down interview in months. To his credit, Biden was promising only a “mini-Revolution.”
Others have gone full revolutionary. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., joined the growing ranks of members of Congress in issuing a warning to the Supreme Court: reaffirm Roe v. Wade or else. The “else” varies from promises to pack the Court to personal accountability for justices. For Shaheen, it is a promise of “revolution.”
Clearly, these leaders are using over-heated rhetoric and do not support violence. They no more want true revolution than Sen. Chuck Schumer was calling for the killing of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch when he declared on the steps of Supreme Court “I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
Calling for revolutionary change in politics is as common as calling on people to “fight” political opponents or legislative actions. For example, with rioting continuing in Brooklyn Center, Minn. and around the country, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-CA, went to Minnesota and told the protesters that they “gotta stay on the street” and “get more confrontational.”
However, these same politicians have insisted that such references are literal when made by their opponents. Notably, Democrats are holding hearings this week on how Republicans bear responsibility for the Jan. 6th riot due to their calls to “fight” against certification of the 2020 election. On that day, there is no question that Trump whipped the crowd into a frenzy. I was critical of the speech while he was giving it. However, Trump never actually called for violence or a riot. Rather, he urged his supporters to march on the Capitol to express opposition to the certification of electoral votes and to support the challenges being made by some members of Congress. He expressly told his followers “to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” Trump also stated: “Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy…And after this, we’re going to walk down – and I’ll be there with you – we’re going to walk down … to the Capitol and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women.”
There is little attention to how such rhetoric has been common on the left.
Of course, having leaders like Biden and Shaheen channeling revolutionary rhetoric is more vapid than violent. You can put on a beret and chomp on a cigar but it does not make you Che Guevara. It is clear that he meant a political revolution, but the President was engaging in the same ultimatum and saber rattling.
It is the underlying message that is worrisome. It is part of a long series of threats to the Supreme Court that it must yield on the interpretation of the Constitution or face radical changes to the institution. The President is not alone in presenting the Court with this yield-or-else choice.
Last year, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass, and others stood in front of the Supreme Court to announce a court packing bill to give liberals a one-justice majority. This follows threats from various Democratic members that conservative justices had better vote with liberal colleagues . . . or else. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, is not willing to wait and has called to pack the Court. She denounced the court for voting wrongly on decisions and, perish the thought, against “widely held public opinion.”
The attacks on the institution have become attacks on the members of the institution. Law professors like Berkeley Dean Erwin Chemerinksy have called the justice “partisan hacks” while others have supported targeting the individual justices at their home. Georgetown Law Professor Josh Chafetz declared that “when the mob is right, some (but not all!) more aggressive tactics are justified.”
Such calls can take on a more menacing meaning in the twisted minds of some who may think that “more aggressive tactics” include showing up at a justice’s house with a Glock handgun, zip ties, and burglary tools. Again, that is not the intention of such remarks but the endorsement of targeting justices at their homes shows a complete collapse in our sense of decency and responsibility.
Sixties Radical Abbie Hoffman once said that the “first duty of a revolutionary is to get away with it.” It remains to be seen if the public will allow these politicians to get away with it and support calls for changing the Court or retaliating against individual members. With the support of many in the media and academia, the reckless rhetoric is likely to continue.
However, there should be no question about the import of the underlying message that it is appropriate for politicians to pack or legislatively change the court if it does not rule the way that they and “public opinion” demand. Such proposals would destroy one of the core institutions of our constitution system.
That is why “when you talk about destruction” of our traditions of judicial review, as the Beatles declared in 1968, “you can count me out.”