A dark day for Democrats

Democrats faced a nightmare scenario on Friday as they surveyed a mess of major political, policy and legal disasters with White House and Congressional elections less than five months away.

While Democrats were still reeling from President Biden’s poor performance on Thursday evening in the decisive debate with former President Donald J. Trump, they were again dealt harshly by the Supreme Court on Friday.

In a sweeping ruling, the court undermined the government’s longstanding authority to regulate health care, public safety and the environment — a core tenet of Democratic orthodoxy. In another ruling, the justices issued a ruling that could make it more difficult to prosecute those who attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and possibly Trump himself, for their role in the violent insurrection.

It was a day that encapsulated the party’s worst fears about the upcoming election and the rightward tilt of the Supreme Court. And it made clear how Republicans and Mr. Trump are within reach of victory in November — positioning them to achieve a series of policy goals that Democrats fiercely oppose — even with a presumptive nominee who is a convicted felon and a party that is in deep disarray and has shown little ability to govern.

“It’s a bad day for democracy and a threatening day for the rule of law,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat and a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

The build-up left Democrats worried and desperate, and most did not make the usual effort to soften Mr. Biden’s woeful debate.

“Joe Biden is a very good man,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and longtime leader of the House of Representatives. “He respects people and respects the truth and respects the Constitution. He had a bad night. His opponent in the debate is not a good man.”

Biden’s shaky performance led to a flurry of speculation about whether he should or could be replaced as the nominee, a possibility that was dismissed by many leading Democrats.

But the Supreme Court’s rulings hit just as hard, underscoring the stakes of the upcoming election and how the impact of Trump’s first term continues to be deeply felt. The decisions strike at the heart of Democrats’ vision for government, one in which those who turn to violence to impede the peaceful transfer of power should be punished and one in which federal agencies should have the power to interpret federal law and protect the public against corporate misconduct. .

To make matters worse, the rulings came at a time when Democrats firmly believe the court has been compromised because of some conservative justices’ ties to billionaire businessmen, as well as their tacit support for the Jan. 6 movement. As far as Democrats are concerned, that bias was exposed by the flying of a flag sympathetic to the Jan. 6 rioters at the home of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. in Virginia. Both Justice Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife, Virginia, was involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 election, declined to recuse themselves from the case.

Democrats called the decision in the landmark case over government power a major step backward, calling it an example of how the conservative-dominated court carelessly cast aside years of established case law to the detriment of the public.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling shamefully overturns decades of precedent, stripping regulatory authority from federal experts with substantial experience and handing it to judges with no prior training or expertise in complex cases,” said Senator Alex Padilla, Democrat of California. “This decision is deeply misguided and will further distract us from making decisions rooted in facts and science.”

The so-called Chevron doctrine, which gave federal agencies powers in a 1984 Supreme Court case, has long been a target of conservatives who complained that it gave faceless federal bureaucrats — many of whom were considered liberal — too much authority to determine how federal laws are enforced. . It was the origin of what Republicans derided as the “administrative state,” and they hailed the court’s action as a breakthrough.

“The Chevron Doctrine has plagued Americans for four decades by giving unelected bureaucrats excessive power to determine and in many cases fabricate the intentions of Congress,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota. “This entire scheme gives undue control to so-called experts who are unaccountable to voters and have a personal interest in increasing federal control.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling that prosecutors had gone too far in seeking convictions for obstruction of justice for those who took part in the attack on the Capitol was another blow to Democrats. They believe Trump and the far right are trying to rewrite the history of what happened when the mob pushed through the Capitol to prevent the counting of ballots for Biden.

“Today, the Trump-laden Supreme Court made it easier for the January 6th insurrectionists to escape accountability for their crimes,” Rep. Katie Porter, Democrat of California, wrote on social media. “I was trapped in the Capitol that day, and the rioters’ intent was clear: to stop Congress from doing our job.”

However, many Republicans cheered the findings and downplayed the actions of those charged in the Jan. 6 attack.

“The Justice Department has expanded a law in a way that is more suited to a banana republic than America,” said Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas. “This administration tolerates violent crime and an open border, but they manipulated a statute to jail grandmothers anywhere near the Capitol on January 6.”

Even as the ground seemed to shift beneath their feet, Democrats saw one potential upside: the possibility that voters worried about Republican power and the direction of the Supreme Court could be motivated to vote for Biden, especially with the prospect that the next president will have new vacancies on the court to fill.

“If people here were really paying attention,” Mr. Blumenthal said, “alarm bells should be ringing at kitchen tables all over the country.”

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