The Supreme Court Is a Joke. It’s Not Funny

On Thursday, in their ruling halting the Biden administration’s plan to limit ozone pollution from drifting into other states, Supreme Court justices repeatedly, accidentally referenced “nitrous oxide” — a.k.a. laughing gas — rather than the chemical compounds actually at issue in the case. The opinion, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, was published online for several hours before the errors were corrected.

The next day, the Supreme Court overturned a bedrock administrative law principle, “Chevron deference,” that has long empowered federal agencies to interpret and implement statutes — with the understanding that federal courts would defer to those agencies’ reasonable interpretations of ambiguous laws. Now, judges will get to fill in any policy gaps left by Congress: They are the real experts, the court has ruled.

The decisions, taken together, offer a perfect representation of the current Supreme Court: Our country is being led by an all-powerful, undemocratic institution that is, in many ways, a complete joke — in addition to being simply corrupt. As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissent on Friday, “The majority disdains restraint, and grasps for power” — and the justices are “making a laughing-stock” of long-standing judicial principles.

Americans, broadly-speaking, appear to recognize the court isn’t simply calling balls and strikes, as Chief Justice John Roberts once pledged to do. A survey published by the Associated Press on Thursday found that 70 percent of Americans believe that Supreme Court justices are more likely to try to shape the law to fit their own ideologies, while only 28 percent expect the court to be fair and impartial. Even a majority of Republicans, whose party controls the Supreme Court, believe justices’ decisions are being guided by their ideology.

Many of the court’s decisions this term — and in recent years — have had a distinct joke-like quality to them.

There were the five accidental references to laughing gas, nitrous oxide — instead of nitrogen oxides — in the Ohio v. Environmental Protection Agency decision, which will ultimately lead more people to breathe in polluted air.

There was the court’s opinion overruling its landmark Chevron decision — a key goal of the conservative legal movement in recent years, but not always; conservative Justice Clarence Thomas previously authored an opinion defending it, before changing his mind.

There was the decision allowing Americans to once again add “bump stocks” to their semi-automatic rifles to allow them to fire more quickly, with justices finding that the accessories aren’t covered by the longstanding federal ban on fully automatic weapons — a potentially deadly joke, coming to a city or town near you.

In one of the court’s most quietly egregious decisions, justices ruled that it didn’t violate federal corruption rules for a garbage truck company to deliver a $13,000 payment to an Indiana mayor who helped steer a government contract to the company.

“Is a $100 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card for a trash collector wrongful?” wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh in the court’s opinion. “What about a $200 Nike gift card for a county commissioner who voted to fund new school athletic facilities? Could students take their college professor out to Chipotle for an end-of-term celebration?”

Put simply, these things are not like the other — they never would have been covered under the corruption statute. As Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson noted in her dissent, the corruption statute “was not designed to apply to teachers accepting fruit baskets, soccer coaches getting gift cards, or newspaper delivery guys who get a tip at Christmas.”

Justices haven’t issued their ruling yet on former President Donald Trump’s claims to an expansive, perpetual immunity shield from prosecution. The court’s decision to accept the case delayed Trump’s federal election subversion trial, ensuring it likely won’t take place before the election; justices dragged out their decision in the case so long that they extended the court’s term into July for the first time in some years.

The Supreme Court’s increasingly ridiculous antics and overtly ideological impulses are part of a broader pattern. In recent years, the court has used specious cases to impose its ideological blueprint on America.

Last year, the court issued a decision allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ customers in a case that was ultimately hypothetical. No such customers had ever apparently sought to hire the web designer at the center of the case. The court also last year struck down President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, even though the student loan servicer at the center of the case faced no potential financial harm at all.

In a 2022 case, justices allowed public school officials to bring prayer back into public schools, using the case of a high school football coach who did not appear to want his job back.

The Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, has become a laughing-stock. Unfortunately, the joke is on us, and it’s not at all funny.

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