Speaking at a virtual event for the noxious Federalist Society on Thursday night, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito decided for once to drop the laughable pretense that his role is to be an impartial arbiter of the law, and went instead on a rant against a long list of his personal grievances. These included covid-19 restrictions on religious institutions, gay marriage, contraceptives, Plan B, and abortion. Did we need a reminder of how much Alito sucks? Not really, but he gave us one anyway!
In his speech, Alito made it clear that he sees safeguarding people’s health during the pandemic and expanding people’s rights as an attack on freedom and religious liberty.
“The pandemic,” Alito said, “has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty,” noting its particular impact on faith communities who have at times been barred from holding in-person services, but have been free to continue to meet virtually. “Think of worship services, churches closed on Easter Sunday, synagogues closed for Passover on Yom Kippur,” he said.
Alito went on to warn darkly that “in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.” By this, of course, Alito is referring to the fact that the ability to discriminate against others on the basis of one’s personal religious beliefs is increasingly viewed by the public as what it is—bigotry. He brought up a laundry list of the religious right’s favored examples of victimhood and persecution—the Little Sisters of the Poor, whom Alito described as being “targeted” by the Obama administration in a “protracted campaign” and asked to “violate a tenet of their faith;” a pharmacy in the state of Washington owned by a Christian family that in violation of a state rule refused to carry Plan B, which Alito incredibly and falsely claimed “destroy[s] an embryo after fertilization;” the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop who famously discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to bake them a wedding cake; a recent Maryland ruling that allowed people to access medication abortion without first visiting a clinic; and the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell, which legalized gay marriage.
To Alito, the need to respect the rights of people who want access to contraception and abortion and the rights of queer people pales in comparison to the need to protect the rights of bigots. “For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom,” he noted during his speech, adding, “It’s often just an excuse for bigotry, and it can’t be tolerated, even when there is no evidence that anybody has been harmed.” He lamented that being against gay marriage is now a sign that one is an asshole. “Until very recently, that’s what the vast majority of Americans thought,” Alito said. “Now it’s considered bigotry.”
While most would see an expansion of rights for people who have been denied them in the past as progress, to Alito, this is akin to, as he put it, “Germany and Japan after 1945,” truly a remarkable analogy. “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there,” he warned. And without referencing cancel culture, he blasted so-called cancel culture. “Even before the pandemic, there was growing hostility to the expression of unfashionable views,” he said, adding, “[I]t would be easy to put together a new list called, ‘things you can’t say if you’re a student or professor at a college or university or an employee of many big corporations.’”
Conservatives have long railed against the so-called politicization of the Supreme Court, by which they mean any attempt by their opponents to do exactly what they have done—stack the Supreme Court with their own ideologues. None of what Alito said is new or surprising, but it is a bleak, depressing reminder of the reactionary posture of our increasingly conservative Supreme Court. The religious right may have lost the culture war as Alito stated, but they are winning the political one.