May 21, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Don’t Blame Gorsuch. Blame Voters

Monday's Supreme Court ruling knee-caps labor rights. That's the price we will pay for the 2014 midterm elections.

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I’ll talk tomorrow about an aspect of the gun violence debate that does not get nearly as much attention as it deserves: the role of ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) in permitting gun sellers to operate with impunity.

Today, let’s discuss voting. Or not voting.

The occasion is Monday’s ruling by the US Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the five conservative justices said employers can bar employees from class-action litigation by forcing them into individual arbitration. In plain English, workers can win in court, will likely lose in arbitration. (No juries in arbitration, mostly people sympathetic to employers.) The majority ruled in favor corporate power. The 1 percent won.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the conservative majority, said:

“The policy may be debatable but the law is clear: Congress has instructed that arbitration agreements like those before us must be enforced as written.”

Writing for the four liberal justices, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the ruling “egregiously wrong,” adding that:

“The inevitable result of today’s decision will be the under-enforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well-being of vulnerable workers.”

OK, what does this have to do with voting?

Elections have consequences is the point. If you voted for President Donald Trump, and Monday’s ruling affects you, perhaps you will be more careful about your vote next time. If Monday’s ruling is as bad for the working class as liberals say it is, liberals need to look every member of the Trump-supporting working class square in the eye and say: you wanted this, now you got it. If you don’t, vote Democratic next time.

Voters should be held responsible, just as leaders are. Too often, voters are treated as if the “costumer is always right” and when the costumer fails, it’s someone else’s fault. It’s just not so. Voters must understand there is a price to be paid for political decision-making, that this isn’t a game, this isn’t entertainment, and that high court rulings that knee-cap labor rights are no exception to the price we all pay.

Liberals, too, should soul search.

If everyone who could vote did vote in the 2016 election, we might not be talking about Justice Neil Gorsuch writing pedantically about contract law, but instead Justice Merrick Garland (President Barack Obama’s nominee) who would have almost certainly joined a liberal majority in favoring the rights of labor. If you did not vote in 2016, and if Monday’s ruling affects you, well, maybe you’ll vote next time.

The immediate retort? Don’t blame voters.

Some didn’t vote for Trump, liberals say. In fact, three million more voted for Hillary Clinton. Furthermore, liberals say, we didn’t suppress black voters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida. We didn’t hack the computers of the Democratic National Committee. We didn’t coordinate with foreigners. We didn’t do any of these things, but we have to live with this Supreme Court ruling anyway. All of which is true.

But none of the above is sufficient to countering the point that if everyone who could vote did vote in 2016, the Supreme Court would have favored rights, not power. Fifty-eight percent of eligible voters voted in 2016. That’s barely more than a majority. You get the justices you voted for, or didn’t vote for. This is the price we pay.

For another thing, Gorsuch is not a product of the 2016 election. He is the product of the 2014 midterms when none of the above factors—Russia, voter ID laws, etc.—were factors. Game-changing fact: 36 percent of eligible voters went to the polls on Election Day 2014, the day when the Democrats lost control of the Senate, the day the new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seized the power to block a vote on Judge Garland, a power he exercised mere hours after Justice Antonin Scalia died.

To put a finer point on it, 2014 saw the lowest level of voter turnout in seven decades. An even finer point: support in the electorate for the agenda of the first African-American president fell to historic depths—and this fact cuts across race, class, gender, everything. Only 2010 was worse. Before that, everyone had the excuse of fighting in a global war for not voting in the midterms of 1942. What’s our excuse?

The only plausible excuse is that we generally do not trust government enough to participate in it, or we don’t believe voting will make a difference. These are serious issues demanding serious discussion. There are other factors, too, what political scientists call “the cost of voting,” such as registration and frequency of voting.

But while these might explain low voter turnout, they do not justify it, because there is no justifying inaction in a democracy. The buck stops with voters, like it or not. We made some bad choices. Now we—the 99 percent—are going to pay the price.

Believe it or not, I have great conversations with readers on Twitter. Join me there by clicking @johnastoehr. Don’t forget to send this newsletter to your friends! If you have an idea or topic you’d like me to consider, or if you would like to repost today’s newsletter to your blog or website, please write to me at johnastoehr at gmail.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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