Last week the Supreme Court declared President Biden’s plan to cancel $430 billion in student loan repayments unconstitutional. The President’s response was to immediately announce that his Administration would find a way to circumvent the decision — thereby further undermining respect for our courts and the judges who serve in them.
Indeed, the previous day the President dismissed another ruling by the Court, this one on affirmative action, by disdainfully calling the Supreme Court of the United States “not a normal court” and impliedly unworthy of respect.
It was no surprise, then, that the President’s challenge to the Court’s decisions prompted calls for those who would have had their debts wiped out by his plan, to simply refuse to make further payments. Who can blame them?
Long gone are the days when political leaders would respond to a court ruling with which they disagreed by stating, “we disagree with the court’s decision but will of course abide by it.” Former Vice President Al Gore’s respectful acceptance of the December 2000 Supreme Court decision awarding the presidency to his rival George W. Bush, today would earn him the sobriquet of “wimp” by his Democrat colleagues.
This latest round of disparaging judges and courts generally did not start with the current administration. Former President Trump was well-known for attacking judges who issued opinions with which he disagreed during his term in office.
Few, however, have gone so far as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), when he threatened Associate Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh by name in 2020 at a pro-abortion rally on the steps of the Supreme Court.
It is noteworthy also that Biden’s most recent disdainful response to the Supreme Court mirrors the aftermath of last year’s Supreme Court Bruen decision, which struck down New York’s century-old Sullivan Law that had made it virtually impossible for New Yorkers to lawfully carry handguns for self-defense.
In that instance, it was not Biden but Democrat New York Governor Kathy Hochul who blasted the Court’s decision and immediately urged the state legislature to pass new legislation directly and purposefully undermining the Bruen decision(which it quickly did).
In both of those instances, high government officials signaled directly and openly that decisions by the highest court in the land are not to be afforded respect or deference. Not only that, but such decisions are fair targets to be undercut by executive and legislative action when the holdings are not in accord with the liberal philosophy of its critics.
It therefore should come as no surprise that outside groups — whether those advocating against repayment of student loan obligations, or gun control organizations urging states to circumvent court decisions supporting the Second Amendment — are fostering similar disrespect for the rule of law.
While some of the published criticisms directed to the Court’s June 30th student loan decision are founded on legal arguments, others have been visceral, even stupid, in their analysis. One Twitter user, for example, declared that the decision was part of a plan to “uneducate young people.”
There actually exists an anti-student loan repayment organization, “Student Loan Justice,” whose director opined long before last week’s court decision that contractual student loans “ha[d] become weaponized.”
The silliness of such individual responses aside, having high government officials, from governors to Members of Congress and sitting presidents openly disparaging our federal courts seriously undermines confidence in not only the court system but the government as a whole, regardless of the partisan political lens through which such institutions might be viewed.
To be sure, criticism of the Supreme Court, even by presidents as esteemed as Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, is nothing new over the course of our nation’s history. However, with trust in the High Court already at a disturbingly low ebb, attacks such as those by Biden, Schumer, and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) who declared it a “cesspool of corruption,” can be especially damaging to the public’s confidence in courts at all levels.
John Adams described the representative democracy he helped form as “a government of laws, and not of men.” If our political leaders fail to quickly reverse the trend of directly and openly undermining the courts and the judges who define the limits of those laws, our ongoing descent into systemic chaos will only accelerate.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.