Supreme Court Criticism

During periods of intense political debate in the U.S., the Supreme Court often becomes a target of harsh criticism.

Jefferson complained of “useless judges” and described the judiciary as “a despotic branch.” Lincoln suggested that allowing the Supreme Court to overrule public opinion could lead “to anarchy or to despotism.” A member of Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet said that one court decision should “outrage the moral sense of the country.”

Across history, the goals of such criticism have tended to be similar. The critics hope to damage the court’s credibility with other political leaders and the public, making it uncomfortable for the justices to issue unpopular rulings.

Over the past few years, the cycle has started again. With Republican-appointed justices dominating the court — and pursuing an ambitious agenda that does sometimes conflict with public opinion — Democrats are denouncing the court in ways that would have been shocking not so long ago.

“There has been a sea change in the way Democrats view and talk about the Supreme Court,” Carl Hulse, The Times’s chief Washington correspondent, who has been covering Congress since the 1990s, told me. “Democrats used to respectfully disagree with the justices. Now they call them illegitimate and corrupt, partisan and extreme.”

A classic example of the old approach was Al Gore’s deference to the court, even while disagreeing with it, after the justices halted the counting of votes in the 2000 election and effectively made George W. Bush president. Examples of Democrats’ new approach include:

“The problem is not that the Supreme Court is just conservative,” Representative Katie Porter said on the House floor. “The problem is that it is corrupt.”

“Each scandal uncovered, each norm broken, each precedent-shattering ruling delivered is a reminder that we must restore justice and balance to the rogue, radical Supreme Court,” Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts said.

“The Supreme Court is a cesspool of corruption devastating our communities,” Representative Cori Bush of Missouri said.

“Creepy billionaires ran an ‘op’ to capture the court, just like 19th-century railroad barons would capture the railroad commission that set their rates,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said.

“This activist, extremist MAGA court faces a legitimacy crisis,” Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon said. “And a legitimacy crisis for the court is a crisis for our democratic republic.”

Hardball, two ways

The criticism has three main sources. One, Republicans refused to allow Barack Obama to fill a court opening in his final year in office, only to help Donald Trump rapidly fill three seats. Two, the court has been impatient and ambitious, as my colleague Adam Liptak has written, willing to overturn precedents (in the case of abortion and other matters) and bipartisan legislation (in the case of voting rights and campaign finance law). Three, most recently, revelations about Justice Clarence Thomas’s undisclosed receipt of gifts from a billionaire and Republican donor have highlighted the lack of accountability for the justices.

Partly for these reasons, the court’s public standing has slipped. Last year, only 25 percent of Americans said they had a lot of confidence in the court, down from 50 percent as recently as 2002, according to Gallup.

Adam Liptak put it this way: “Public confidence in the court has been shaken by two things: the breakneck pace of its conservative supermajority in moving the law to the right and its unwillingness to address questions about the justices’ ethical standards. That combination has left the court vulnerable to political attacks.”

Many Republicans view the recent criticism as unhinged and damaging to American democracy. (James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal has made this argument a theme of recent columns.) According to this view, the liberals criticizing the court are sore losers trying to subvert legitimate court decisions with which they disagree. And the language that some Democrats are using certainly can be severe.

In the context of American history, however, the fight is not so unusual. Republicans and the judges they appointed have decided to use hardball tactics to shape the law, including the stonewalling of Obama’s last court nominee and the aggressive rulings of the current court. Democrats are responding with their own hardball tactics, trying to damage the court’s credibility.

In doing so, the Democrats hope to lay the groundwork for laws that could constrain the court’s authority or change its makeup. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to take such actions, and John Adams, Jefferson and Roosevelt all tried to do so. Adams and Jefferson succeeded, changing the structure of the judiciary. Roosevelt failed to pass his so-called court packing bill, but his criticism of the court — and his popularity — nonetheless seemed to influence the justices: They reversed course in his second term and stopped overruling major New Deal programs.

The judiciary is not supposed to be the dominant branch of the federal government. It is supposed to be one of three equal branches. For now, Republicans have the upper hand because Democrats don’t have the votes in Congress to change the law. But the harsh recent criticism is intended to be an early step in a long campaign to constrain the court.

“When something is broken, we don’t agonize,” Senator Markey said, while castigating the court. “We organize to fix it.”

For more: Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, has defended Thomas against “bullying threats and intimidation tactics.” Jamelle Bouie, a Times Opinion columnist, has argued that Democrats still are doing too little to undermine the Supreme Court’s standing.

Lyna Bentahar and Alain Delaquérière contributed research to today’s newsletter.


War in Ukraine

Russia has claimed victory in the eastern city of Bakhmut, celebrating it as a major mission accomplished. Ukraine insists the city has not completely fallen.

Moscow’s purported success may also be an Achilles’ heel: Defending Bakhmut could weaken Russia’s ability to hold off a broader Ukrainian counteroffensive.

The Biden administration said the U.S. had delivered the equipment Ukraine needs to begin that counteroffensive.

U.S. start-ups are using the war to demonstrate new weapons, but they’re struggling to sell them to a risk-averse Defense Department.

Russia put more Americans on its sanctions list, singling out enemies of Donald Trump.


After a call with President Biden, Speaker Kevin McCarthy sounded more optimistic about reaching a debt limit deal. The two agreed to meet today.

Senator Tim Scott’s expected presidential bid could raise the profile of Black conservatives.

The N.A.A.C.P. issued a travel advisory for Florida, urging visitors to consider Gov. Ron DeSantis’s policies on diversity and race.


The governing party in Greece took a strong lead in the country’s elections but fell short of a majority, setting the stage for a second vote.

Mexico’s top human rights official, an ally of its president, was targeted with Pegasus spyware while investigating the military.

The new yellow vest: French people are banging saucepans to protest changes to pensions.

Other Big Stories

A fire at a Minnesota mosque was at least the fifth similar act of vandalism in the state this year.

The Minnesota Senate passed a bill that would guarantee drivers for Uber and Lyft a minimum wage and other benefits.

Uber placed its head of diversity, equity and inclusion on leave after workers complained an employee event she moderated, titled “Don’t Call Me Karen,” was insensitive.

Meta was fined $1.3 billion for violating E.U. data privacy rules.


“Succession” busts one of America’s most cherished myths, Elizabeth Spiers argues: That striving should be celebrated.

American-made F-16 fighter jets will not just keep Ukraine alive, but help it win, David French writes.

Here are columns by Nicholas Kristof on parasitic worms and Ezra Klein on the debt ceiling.


Barbecue city: This is China’s hottest tourist destination.

First class: It’s getting bigger.

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Metropolitan Diary: A shop where everyone’s name is the same.

Father’s Day: Pick a gift early.

Advice from Wirecutter: These are the best deals at R.E.I.

Lives Lived: Gloria Molina was a groundbreaking Chicana politician in California, a fierce advocate for the communities she represented. She died at 74.


Back on the court: Brittney Griner played in her first official games after months in Russian custody. The Mercury lost, but each appearance was a celebration.

W.N.B.A. superstar: In just her second game with the Liberty, Breanna Stewart broke the franchise’s single-game scoring record with a 45-point explosion.

N.B.A. blowouts: Miami embarrassed Boston last night, giving the Heat a 3-0 series lead. The Nuggets, their Western Conference counterparts, have their own 3-0 lead against the Lakers.

P.G.A. Championship: Brooks Koepka won, becoming the first LIV Golf player to capture a major since joining the circuit.


Dining in Dallas

Dallas is big, and getting bigger — by the 2030s, it could become the third-largest city in the U.S. But without beaches, mountains or other natural attractions, it’s leaning into its high-end dining scene to entice residents. In the past few years, outposts of elite restaurants such as STK, Komodo and Carbone have opened in the city, and more seem to be moving in all the time. “It is like the U.S.’s version of Dubai,” said Julie Macklowe, whose whiskey sells for $400 a shot in some Dallas restaurants.


What to Cook

These chocolate soufflés are simple.


Read your way through Los Angeles.

What to Listen To

A playlist for tranquillity.

Now Time to Play

The pangrams from yesterday’s Spelling Bee were combatant and noncombatant. Here are today’s puzzle and the Bee Buddy, which helps you find remaining words.

And here are today’s Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

Here’s today’s front page.

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