On Monday night, Steve and I had a late, text-y discussion wherein we commiserated about the Angry Internet in the face of recent Supreme Court decisions. Our fingers typed less about women and their parts and protection than how social media was failing to provide grown-up discourse. My drafts folder holds similar sentiments, but Stevie’s here are smarter. And he’s braver than I am.
Shouting Into the Echo Chamber, by Steve Safran
One of the many wonderful things about the Internet is that it gives a forum for focused debate on issues of importance. It allows earnest and sincere people to have a platform from which to share their beliefs and learn from others. So, of course, we don’t use it that way.
Here is a sampling of the thoughtful statements and rejoinders that spewed forth from this past week’s Supreme Court rulings:
(SCOTUS) Wants to enslave women— all of us. How can they be so hateful. #ImpeachTheFilthyFive
(SCOTUS IS) Disgusting misogynistic racist scumbags. #WarOnWomen.
(The ruling is) against Hobby Lobby and now (the Supreme Court) hates the country. Laughable. F@UCKING LEAVE. (The ruling was in favor of Hobby Lobby. I hope he’ll F@CKING STAY.)
Oh– I should mention something. All of these were aimed at @SCOTUSblog – which isn’t the Supreme Court’s Twitter feed. How do I know? Two reasons. 1. It says so, right there at the top of the feed and 2. The Supreme Court doesn’t have a Twitter feed. I mean, come on. Does anyone think the Supremes would Tweet?
@RuthBG: h8 Scalia but <3 Bieber 2 much 2 deport.
But these comments are from just a handful of anonymous hatebags, right? Nope. Look at your Facebook feed, and you will see your perfectly rational friends get into reductionist lathers.
Here is my disclaimer: My opinion on the Supreme Court decisions this past week has no bearing on this column. I am not going to get into a debate over right and wrong, because the very idea that decisions are “right” or “wrong” is exactly the problem. We have opinions and biases. Too many of us seek information that supports our biases (“Confirmation Bias”) and reject information that does not.
That’s a shame, because within the lengthy Supreme Court rulings are some pretty remarkable works of legal prose. A dissent can often be the most compelling part of the debate. Witness Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s withering and wonderful 36-page dissent in the Hobby Lobby ruling. If you supported the outcome and aren’t interested in the dissent, you’re missing a master class in Constitutional Law. Taking a 40-page ruling and reducing it to “The Supreme Court Hates Woman” is like saying Moby Dick is about a guy who hates a whale. You can’t fit a ruling on a bumper sticker or a Tweet or an insult plastered over a picture of John Roberts. Even if he’s got that Mona Lisa smile thing going on and you can’t decide if he’s proud or just got the last donut in the chambers.
When the Supreme Court rules against us, they are fascists (“They’re in Bush’s pocket!”) and when they rule in favor of a cause we hold dear (e.g., gay marriage), they are wise and learned (“The Supreme Court is modern and progressive!”)
There were two especially fascinating rulings this week. I say “fascinating,” because within each the Court gave a remedy. Now that’s really cool. In the Hobby Lobby case, the court ruled that the store could indeed have health insurance that didn’t offer birth control, but offered that the HHS could pick up the tab instead. In the case striking down the Massachusetts buffer zone law, it suggested the state use existing law concerning harassment, intimidation, and obstruction. Massachusetts legislators are going to hammer out a new law that fits the Court’s recommendations.
Think about that. The Massachusetts ruling was a 9-0. This wasn’t an “Old White Guys Hate Women” decision. Every justice concurred that the 35-foot buffer zone was a violation of the First Amendment BUT, they demurred, “If you want to protect the women, here’s how you would do it…”
Compare that to the ruling against Aereo, a company that was– and here I will opine– blatantly ripping off TV stations with mini satellites and rebroadcasting their work via the Internet for a monthly fee. Here, the Court didn’t say “But Aereo could tinker with a couple of things and we’ll be cool, K bro?” When the Court offers a remedy, it’s like your dad saying, “You know I can’t give you permission to drink a beer. So I’m just going to put this can of Bud down and go work in the shop. But remember: I can’t give you permission.”
I like having my opinions challenged. Over the course of my adult life my position has changed on the following topics: gay marriage, guns, the war in Iraq, the death penalty, and the durability of the music of Billy Joel. Think about the college professor or the TED Talk you saw that changed how you saw something. Remember the joy you felt realizing it was time to rethink your idea on the topic. Honor that memory with a shot. Maybe with a chaser. Remember: Britt runs this blog. (Editor’s note: Britt recommends bubbles, and the general honoring of memories where a noted shift in thought leads to better conversations between us.)
We have to give rulings some time to breathe. And we need real outcomes to judge the prescience of our judges. In the 2010 ruling Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could not be restricted in the size of their donations to political campaigns. The outrage was along the lines of “Corporations will buy elections!” But look what happened last month to Eric Cantor, the Majority Whip from Virginia. He got smoked in the primaries by an unknown, and Cantor had a more than 25:1 cash advantage. Funded by all sorts of interest groups, Cantor spent millions. Dave Brat spent $200,000. Brat won.
The Supreme Court may not always rule the way you want. That presents you with the marvelous opportunity to learn and discuss. Shouting into the echo chamber that “The Supreme Court should do its homework!” won’t change anyone’s mind. Debate. Agree your opponent has valid points. Engage in persuasive argument. These are the real tools of change. They may not change the Supreme Court’s rulings. But they will, occasionally, change the way you think.
Especially about Billy Joel. That stuff just doesn’t hold up. I’m not debating you on this.