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Future Hindsight is a weekly podcastthat takes big ideas in civic life and democracy and turns them into action items for everyday citizens.

Sep 25, 2020

Supreme Court’s Agenda

Although we are taught to believe the Supreme Court is a neutral institution whose primary concern is justice, it is actually an extremely powerful legal body with its own agenda. For the last 50 years, that agenda has been staunchly conservative. Instead of functioning as a check on executive and legislative powers, it operates as its own power building machine, often making decisions that favor itself or the conservative lawmakers who put a majority of the justices in power. The Supreme Court is confident in its position and its conservative views, and has no qualms about overruling democratic decisions to keep itself—and conservative lawmakers—in power.

Far-Reaching Impacts

Decisions made by the Supreme Court have long and far-reaching consequences. On the positive side, single Supreme Court decisions helped desegregate American schools, create due process protections like Miranda Rights, and legalize same-sex marriages. At the same time, the conservative Supreme Court has greatly inflated the power of corporations over ordinary citizens; consistently ruled against the poor and welfare rights; and allowed our electoral system to become overrun by powerful interests with their campaign finance rulings. Their decisions have very real consequences for everyday Americans, whether we all understand that or not.


With the exception of the progressive Warren Court of the 1950-60s, the Supreme Court has showed itself to be antagonistic towards America’s poor. It has continually ruled against welfare rights, labor rights, voting rights, and even equal funding for education. The court has also refused to give poor Americans the protected minority status they so desperately need. Instead, the court has repeatedly ruled in favor of America’s rich and on behalf of corporations, further exacerbating the plight of the poor. Companies have substantially increased protections in their power over workers, while organized labor has lost much of their ability to protect workers.

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Adam Cohen, a former member of the New York Times editorial board and senior writer for Time magazine, is the author of Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court's Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America. He is also the author of  Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck and Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he was president of volume 100 of the Harvard Law Review.

You can follow Adam on Twitter @adamscohen.

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