Opinion | A High Court Held in Low Esteem

To the Editor:

Re “Who Can Rein In the Supreme Court?” (editorial, May 28):

Of course there should be a meaningful and enforceable ethics code for Supreme Court justices, but this is not the route to establishing public legitimacy for the institution. Not when the court has been on a mission to eviscerate the Voting Rights Act, and with it democracy itself. Not when it discards longstanding precedent to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion, threatening the reproductive autonomy of half the population, or when it usurps the role of the legislature and guts the E.P.A., exposing us all to unchecked environmental devastation.

The only way for the court to gain the public trust is for it to begin to consistently act in the public interest. It will not be accepted as legitimate so long as it continues to act, again and again, to undermine our most cherished values and force the most vulnerable among us to stand even more alone. Nor should it be.

Jonathan Markovitz
San Diego

To the Editor:

There is a hard-right and religious majority on the court intent on imposing its ideology on a pluralistic, increasingly secular society. Worse, it is led by a weak chief justice who seems to exhibit no clear moral or legal leadership over his unhinged justices and their narrow ideologies.

I do not know what can effectively stop the court’s drift from legitimacy. Expanding the court could lead to more black-robed fanatics. Perhaps a mandatory retirement age of 70 for all federal judges, including the justices, would result in more significant turnover on the court. Turnover could also result if we limited justices to 12-year terms, with an additional 12 years allowable upon congressional approval.

Something must be done. For people to view the court as legitimate requires an act of faith. The Supreme Court in its current makeup is squandering the people’s faith.

Wilson Roberts
Greenfield, Mass.

To the Editor:

The irony of the Supreme Court’s activism and questionable ethics is that the more it exercises its power along clearly ideological lines and fails to adhere to strict ethical standards, the more it erodes its legitimacy and hence its power.

Who can rein in the Supreme Court? In this respect, the court, tragically for the institution and our country, is inexorably reining in itself.

Roliff Purrington

To the Editor:

As you noted, the low public approval ratings of the Supreme Court preceded the more recent disclosures of the questionable ethical behavior of individual justices. More likely, this has more to do with the ideological alignment of the Republican-appointed justices with the radical positions of the party. Life in America has changed most abruptly as a result.

The status of women has been jolted in an unprecedented manner. The court has fostered a radical concept of religious freedom that favors the religious concerns of some over others. And we are just beginning to see the dismantling of a government apparatus set in place over time to protect Americans from the threats of unbridled business operations based on greed.

Yet the problem is not just with the court but with the rise of age-old problems whose scabs have in recent years been ripped off to expose an America not seen since the Civil War and the Jim Crow era.

Where we go from here is uncertain. The imposition of codified ethics rules that should be obvious to any well-meaning American, let alone a justice of the Supreme Court, will not heal what ails us now.

Bruce Neuman
Water Mill, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Re “The Supreme Court Is Crippling Environmental Protections,” by Jim Murphy (Opinion guest essay, May 30):

I sympathize with the justices for the constant criticisms they must endure, many of them, including this one, unfair.

Should this essay not mention that the justices were unanimous in their finding that the E.P.A. overstepped its authority and had no jurisdiction over the wetlands in the Sackett case? Whatever the scope of the E.P.A.’s authority over wetlands may be, it does not go as far as to include the wetlands in this case. And how many other cases have there been like this?

Overzealous enforcement based on overly broad interpretations of the scope of authority of federal agencies and carried out by aggressive and possibly self-righteous federal agents is toxic to the U.S. political system.

The court’s analysis of the language of the statute is careful and deliberate. I do not see how the justices could have made any decision other than the one they made without conferring meaning on the language of the statute that it simply cannot support.

The call to Congress to act is justified; the claim that the court is gutting the protections of the Clean Water Act or has failed to protect the environment is not. Those protections were gutted by the act’s own wording.

Gordon Carmichael
London, Ontario

To the Editor:

Re “High Court Decision Limits E.P.A.’s Power Over Wetlands” (news article, May 26):

The lack of respect for the science that sets limits for environmental protection is jaw-dropping. A plethora of scientific logic was employed to protect our water for all of us. A handful of nonscientists cast these protections aside in a moment.

Similarly, climate scientists have done extensive research on the changes in our climate. They have made dire predictions for our future and valuable suggestions to avert some of the problems. Here again a powerful pack of nonscientists blocks whatever action it can.

Science should speak to all of us. The information gained from research is valuable. Yet, there is a growing trend to dismiss science on so many levels. When that dismissal reaches Congress and the Supreme Court, we are all in serious trouble.

We desperately need to face the scientific facts about pollution and climate. These issues are already screaming at us in terms of human health and climate stability. We all need to listen now.

Sally Courtright
Albany, N.Y.

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