WASHINGTON, D.C.—In case you hadn't heard, the U.S. Senate canceled most of its traditional month-long August vacation this year, ostensibly because Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority wanted to "pursue legislation [to] advance Trump's and their agenda."
Now, we know you're all broken up about that—you who probably get at most four weeks' vacation per year total, while the Senate is only in session an average of six and a half months per year—but the truth is, that decision had nothing to do with their passing legislation; it was all about confirming ultra-conservative/religious judges to the nation's federal courts, including one to the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of the November midterm elections, when there's a decent chance that Democrats will become the majority in the Senate.
"Cancelling [sic] August recess resulted in the most productive Senate work period in recent memory. Today alone we confirmed seven more judges & 27 executive branch nominees," tweeted former presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio on August 29.
In fact, the Senate has confirmed a total of 60 federal judges since Trump was elected, and it's got 80 more nominees pending (27 of them in the Ninth Circuit), out of 148 current vacancies—and McConnell is pushing hard to get all of them confirmed before the mid-term election, November 6. And rest assured, the conservatives and libertarians of the reactionary rightwing Federalist Society are the ones who are (and have been) picking those nominees, just as candidate Trump promised in the lead-up to the 2016 election that he would allow them to do.
"Whoever Trump chooses will not simply be vetted by the Federalist Society; that nominee will be a Federalist Society loyalist—as he explicitly said, a Federalist 'pick,'" Slate.com noted of Trump's list of Supreme Court nominees back in January of 2017—but it's just as true of Trump's "lesser" judicial nominees as well. And Trump's choice of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court is a fulfillment of that promise. (True, DailyKos reported that Kennedy only resigned after having been promised that his former law clerk Kavanaugh would be the nominee, but that doesn't change the political philosophy behind the nomination—or the nominee.)
In case you were wondering, Kavanaugh, whose confirmation hearings begin Tuesday:
1) Opposes net neutrality
2) Opposes allowing an undocumented immigrant in federal custody to have an abortion
3) Believes that Trump has the power to fire the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau even though the law establishing that agency says that the current director chooses his/her successor
4) Believes that religious organizations are too burdened by being required to fill out the five blank spaces on a one-page form in order to deny their employees contraception coverage under their health insurance plans
5) Believes the District of Columbia shouldn't be able to ban assault rifles
6) Doesn't believe Roe v. Wade is "settled law" (despite what Sen. Susan Collins says)
7) Doesn't believe Trump can be indicted, sued or investigated while in office
8) Believes that Thomas Jefferson's concept of a "wall of separation between church and state" is "based on bad history" and that "the wall metaphor was wrong as a matter of law and history"—and he'd support state-funded religious schools and reintroducing prayer to public school classrooms.
(There may be plenty more issues of concern, but thanks to Trump classifying more than 100,000 documents involving Kavanaugh, we may never know.)
And just to help things along, within the last year, the Senate voted to overturn its long-standing rule that a nominee for the Supreme Court needed a two-thirds majority to be approved for the position. Now it's a simple majority—and to "help" things along even further, earlier this year, they passed a resolution cutting the number of hours a district court judge and some lower-level executive positions could be debated from 30 down to just two!
One other point: The vast majority of the current judicial nominees are in their forties or early fifties, so get ready for many of these people to be influencing law and public policy for at least the next 40 years. (After all, Kennedy was 82 when he retired, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is currently 85.)
"By the end of his first term, Trump could end up filling over 20 percent of the judges in the federal courts," noted economist Robert Reich. "And even if he’s removed from office, these judges will be around long after he’s gone. Trump has identified young candidates who could serve for decades."
And a bit closer to home: "We've seen the kind of judge that Trump has selected and he clearly is looking for somebody conservative, so as is obvious to everyone else in the country, the court will become staunchly conservative with the next appointment, and probably remain so for any moons," said prominent First Amendment attorney Paul Cambria. "Unless there is a Democratic president at the next election and Thomas and some of the others resign, it seems to me that we're in for a rough road when it comes to civil rights and individual liberties."
So why should the adult industry care about this? Well, on the off-chance there are a few naifs among the industry populace who haven't yet figured this out, it's well-established that most Republicans in positions of power, either legislative, judicial or executive, don't like the idea of people fucking on camera—and the religious ones are even worse, and they'll do anything in their power to shut the industry down, or failing that, shut down access to the explicit material.
But, you say, didn't the Supreme Court rule that non-obscene pornography is legally protected speech? Of course—but the Supreme Court also ruled, in 1986 in Bowers v. Hardwick, that sex between two homosexual men was a criminal act, and it took another Supreme Court ruling 17 years later, in Lawrence v. Texas, to overturn that ruling. And guess what? Yet another Supreme Court ruling could take that right away again!
The point is, the U.S. Supreme Court, from whose decisions no appeal can be taken, is the final step in the judicial process, and barring an act of Congress overturning one of those decisions, what it says, goes—but it can (and has) overturn(ed) its own rulings. Hence, what's to say a Supreme Court with five staunch conservatives—Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch and (likely) Kavanaugh, and not a "swing vote" among them—wouldn't vote to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, thus taking marital protections away from same-sex couples? Or how about reversing its 1972 decision Eisenstadt v. Baird, which established the right of unmarried persons to possess contraception on the same basis as married couples? And of course, there's the biggie: Roe v. Wade, which established nationwide a woman's right to abortion before fetal viability—and which the Religious Right has been trying its damnedest to overturn since it was decided in 1973?
Hell, they could even overturn Stanley v. Georgia, which guaranteed citizens' right to possess even obscene sexual material in the privacy of their homes!
If Trump is able to replace any liberal or moderate justice "with someone like Gorsuch," said Mat Staver, head of the religio-conservative Liberty Counsel in early May, "that means the abortion decision, the same-sex marriage decision, all of those things that went the wrong way will ultimately be in the balance to be reversed. So literally we are a few months away."
But beyond decisions that would directly affect the adult industry, how about the ones that could easily affect industry members in their personal lives?
F'r'instance, take Masterpiece Cakeshop. This was a situation where the shop's owner, Jack Phillips, decided that he'd refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, even though making wedding cakes was part of his normal business and he had no problem making one for any hetero couple that walked through the door.
The gay couple complained to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission about Phillips' refusal, and that body fined Phillips for violating the couple's civil rights—but with the help of the religio-conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, Phillips appealed that fine all the way up to the Supreme Court—which just a couple of months ago made the ludicrous ruling that because some members of the civil rights commission made disparaging remarks about Phillips' religion—a religion which reiterated its bigoted beliefs throughout its own "holy" book, the Bible—Phillips therefore didn't have to treat all of his customers and potential customers the same, relegating gays to second-class citizenship in his store.
Now, the Supreme Court's decision to let Phillips slide on his bigotry apparently gave him the "courage" to deny yet another potential customer equal access to his baked goods. On the same day the Supreme Court handed down its Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, June 4, a young woman named Autumn Scardina asked Phillips to make her a birthday cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside, in part to celebrate the seventh anniversary of her coming out as transgender. As one might guess, Phillips refused, again claiming that his religious beliefs precluded his baking such a cake, and again the Colorado Civil Rights Commission fined him for that decision. Phillips has now sued the commission, and rest assured that that case will wind up in front of the Supreme Court. Any guesses which way the five conservative Catholic justices will vote when it does?
But again, this is exactly the type of decision that establishes public policy that could easily affect adult industry members. As industry members know, despite the occasional phony "study" that gets trotted out by pro-censorship groups about how porn is "addictive" or "causes divorce" or makes men (and perhaps women) into insensitive scumbags, the real opposition to the availability of sexually explicit material comes from The Saved—religious people, predominantly Christians and conservative Jews, who are sure that such material is "sinful" and that its very existence may damn them to Hell forever.
But the point is, while those groups are working to make adult content illegal, what they can now do, following Jack Phillips' example, is begin discriminating against adult industry members in their everyday businesses. We've already had reports about how actresses and producers have had their bank accounts closed, credit cards canceled and loan applications denied simply because they're members of the adult industry. So who knows what other businesses will suddenly decide that adult performers are "too sinful" to patronize their shops or use their services? "Say, aren't you that porn actress who's suing Donald Trump, claiming he paid you not to talk about his affair with you? Sorry, because of my religious beliefs, you can't buy your meal here."
And how about the number of adult industry personnel who use the services of Planned Parenthood for their contraceptive, mammogram, pelvic exam, pap smear, STI testing and abortion needs? All that costs more than a couple of bucks, and before Trump, much of that was paid for by what's called Title X funding—but the latest guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services that determine eligibility for Title X funding say that no organization that also provides abortion services is eligible for that Title X funding—which lets Planned Parenthood out of its share of the $286 million in otherwise available funds—and some states are already trying to cut them off. They're suing, of course, but if it winds up at the Supreme Court, any guesses which family planning organization(s) will get screwed?
Now, liberals and progressives who are hoping to turn all this Republican bullshit around by scoring congressional seats in the mid-term election might have a bit of a problem doing so if their right to vote is taken away—as it has been for many in Ohio, thanks to the Supreme Court's decision in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute. Seems that in Ohio, the Republicans in charge decided that if a person hadn't voted in six years, and didn't bother to return a postcard they send him/her stating that the person hadn't moved, that person could be removed from the list of registered voters—without telling them, of course, so when they showed up at the polls, they would only be able to cast a provisional ballot, which might or might not eventually be counted. Oddly enough, it turned out that of the roughly 144,000 people who've been kicked off the rolls in the last 20 years, twice as many Democrats were kicked off as Republicans—but the Supreme Court didn't have a problem with that form of voter discrimination, saying the move didn't violate federal law. And now there's no reason other states can't follow the same course.
"Voting is not mere policy," wrote attorney Elie Mystal on the blog AboveTheLaw.com. "It’s the wellspring from which the entire government gets its legitimacy. To suggest that the Supreme Court is somehow ill-equipped to settle this disagreement on who should be allowed to vote is to suggest that the government is allowed to choose its people, as opposed to the people being allowed to choose their government."
And speaking of the government choosing its people, let's talk about gerrymandering. That's the situation where the party in power in a particular state gets to redraw the bounds of the state's voting districts, and guess what? With a little finagling, it's possible to isolate the voters of one party—let's say Democrats, since that's been mostly the case—to a small number of districts in which they are the majority, while allowing the other party to have majorities in a larger number of districts, often to protect incumbents from being voted out or prevent candidates from the "minority party" from winning districts.
One might guess that the concept of one political party redrawing boundaries to make sure it wins elections would be something the Supreme Court would want to look at—but essentially, one would have guessed wrong. In one such case that's come before the high court, Gill v. Whitford, the court found that the group of Democratic voters in Wisconsin who brought the lawsuit against the Republican gerrymander of the state "lacked standing" to challenge the districts statewide, with Chief Justice John Roberts ruling that the dilution of the Democrats' vote power is an injury that is specific to their voting districts, and that "Remedying the individual voter’s harm, therefore, does not necessarily require restructuring of all the state’s legislative districts." In other words, an aggrieved party would have to file a lawsuit in each district where it feels it was unfairly gerrymandered, at a cost of millions of dollars and years of litigation, instead of, say, requiring that each state put together a non-partisan committee which would redraw all of the state's districts fairly to each party.
"[T]he Court’s action is likely to signal that ruling parties in supermajority state legislatures are free to tinker with the rules of voting and elections as they see fit—to preserve their power," wrote Steven Rosenfeld of the Independent Media Institute.
But it's not only cases the Supremes decide that may be problematic; it's ones they reject as well. Take the case of Charles Rhines, a gay man convicted of murder in South Dakota in 1993. The Supreme Court refused to hear his recent appeal of his death sentence, even though the jurors in the case, after they'd convicted him, asked questions of the judge like, "If they didn’t vote for the death penalty, what would his life in prison look like? Would he be 'allowed to mix with the general inmate population'?" One juror overheard another comment that life in prison would mean "sending him where he wants to go." So, essentially, the jurors voted for the death penalty because if the guy were sent to prison for life, they thought he'd have a good time fucking the other prisoners.
So here's the bottom line, as well put by political commentator Amanda Marcotte: "If they can capture the judiciary, Republicans realize, it won't much matter if the voters turn against them. Not only will they be able to enact their agenda through the courts, they will also be able to depend on those judges to support gerrymandering and other vote-suppression efforts that may well prevent the voters from kicking them out in the first place."
Think about that real hard as November 6 approaches.