In a tumultuous few weeks, the Supreme Court has ignored the scientific evidence behind safe abortion, the need to slow climate change and the value of gun safety laws. It’s troubling that the justices have now expressed a willingness to consider a voting rights case next term, given Chief Justice John Roberts’ feelings about what he calls “sociological madness” of examining the effects of gerrymandering.
The promise of democracy has been severely tested by the recent injustices faced by conservative Supreme Court justices in cases affecting the health, well-being and future of the planet. Time and time again during this term, their decisions have placed industry, religion (specifically, a conservative strain of Christianity) and special interests above the facts. They devalued the role of expertise.
Ignoring science and evidence is a terrible shift for the nation’s highest court, which once protected the public’s health in rulings that favored the state vaccine mandates and safe food production. This is in contrast to how our current conservative justices have viewed the COVID restrictions, regardless exemption of religious groups from bans on group gatherings or prohibition vaccine mandates for large companies. Even in decisions that upheld basic principles of public health, conservative justices made misleading scientific claims. in his disagreement regarding the Court’s decision to strike down New York’s vaccine mandate law for health care workers, Justice Clarence Thomas lamented that workers seeking religious exemptions objected to available COVID vaccines “because they were developed using cellular lines derived from aborted children,” articulating that it obscures that cells are grown in the laboratory based on elective abortions decades ago, and are also used in the development of routine drugs.
We fear that this dereliction of our social responsibilities for health and well-being will lead to unnecessary suffering and death. We urge the Court to change its reasoning—to evaluate the statistics, to evaluate the research, and to understand how ignoring them in decision-making goes against common decency and their responsibility as jurists to the people of the United States.
In its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Orgthe majority of justices ignored what we and others have repeatedly reported: that abortion is safe—much safer than pregnancy itself—and that denying people access to legal abortions leads to worse physical and mental health outcomes, not we talk economic results. When overturning Roe v. Wade, and shifting abortion rights to the states, the justices who voted in favor of Dobbs put religion and the status of a mass of cells above the health and well-being of actual people who make up roughly 50 percent of the U.S. population. They also showed their disregard for the medical profession and the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship, which the justices in the majority will no doubt continue to enjoy once their ruling becomes practice.
In striking down New York’s gun safety law, the majority of justices ignored data showing that unrestricted access to guns leads to more murders and suicides, not less crime. They ignored data showing that guns are now responsible for more child deaths than cars. They even ignored data showing that once you repeal gun laws, gun-related murders go up. It was a cold-blooded decision against the backdrop of Uvalde, Buffalo, and every mass shooting our nation has endured in recent decades. It was another slap in the face to our health care system and the emergency doctors who have to try to save people torn to pieces by powerful weapons that are incredibly easy to obtain. As we have said before, gun safety laws are part of what makes a compassionate nation, and in this the majority of justices showed their callousness.
And then there’s climate change. In stripping the EPA of power to help power plants reduce their carbon emissions, the majority of justices again said the evidence doesn’t matter, the science doesn’t. Our planet is warming. Coal is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in the world. Stripping the EPA of regulatory authority now puts states in charge of slowing climate change. Piecemeal efforts will not produce the reductions we need to slow warming. Federal action, as part of a global effort, is the necessary solution to this problem. And climate change is a public health issue. An increase in ferocious winter storms, unbearable heat, destructive rains, and wildfires all affect the health and well-being of people in the United States. The science is clear on this point: We must act now, and the Supreme Court has made that action more difficult.
As with any level of government, there is no requirement that the Supreme Court include science in its decision-making. And as justice Amy Connie Barrett has said, “I’m certainly not a scientist.” But expertise matters, and knowing when you don’t know something and seeking that information does better justice. Yet, in their efforts to be constitutional purists, at least when it suits their ideology, the justices in the majority show that ignoring science and evidence is their modus operandi. Instead, they use their power to toe a particular religious line: the same term majorities ruled against separation of church and state in two education cases, one of which forced Maine to fund schools that teach children misinformation about evolution and climate science . The United States once inspired other countries to protect people’s liberties. Now the rest of the world is watching too reacting to decisions that our Supreme Court made that term. And it’s not good.
You don’t need to be a scientist or a mathematician to make good decisions and judgments. But if you’re a justice on the United States Supreme Court, whose lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people depend on your every opinion, you owe it to us to use the data that science is painstakingly collecting when you make your decisions. We cannot return to a world of religious and racial supremacy where the bodies of women and people of color are objects without self-determination. We must not become the dystopian future that so much science fiction warns us about. Let the evidence guide the judgement.