Reaction to Supreme Court decisions generally falls into two camps: (a) The court wisely followed the Constitution, legal precedent, first principles, logic, and sensible jurisprudence, or (b) WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!
Reaction B was on full view after the Hobby Lobby decision, in which the Supreme Court held that some companies could cite religious objections to avoid complying with a federal contraception mandate. The New Yorker offered a typically measured and thoughtful response: "When the Taliban Meets Hobby Lobby," which was based on the extremely realistic premise that the Taliban would move to the U.S., set up a closely held corporation, and then file suit to avoid having to pay insurance coverage for polio vaccinations.
The essay drew a lot of amused response. "What if the Taliban wanted to exercise its right to free speech?!?!?!?!" mocked one reader on Twitter. "Sure, the 4th Amendment SOUNDS nice," wrote another. "But what if a cop pulled over Osama bin Laden driving down I-95?!"
Still, you can't blame people who lose an argument for getting upset. Unfortunately, they also tend to exaggerate. And to complain not only that the reasoning was wrong but that the decision will produce consequences so horrible we'd all be better off letting an asteroid the size of Texas smack into planet Earth and kill everything but the roaches.
That was the reaction in many quarters after two Supreme Court rulings in favor of gun rights. After the high court struck down a District of Columbia handgun ban, Mayor Adrian Fenty predicted that "introducing more handguns into the District will mean more handgun violence." Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin agreed: "There is no question that this decision from the Supreme Court makes it harder for all mayors to keep their city safe," she warned. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley called the ruling "very frightening." The New York Times insisted that the Court had "all but ensured that even more Americans will die senselessly."
Two years later, the Supreme Court extended its District of Columbia v. Heller ruling in McDonald v. Chicago. Reaction? Lather, rinse, and repeat.
Yet none of those predictions turned out to be accurate. After the rulings, the national homicide rate kept falling, and as did violent crime overall, and large cities especially enjoyed some of the largest declines. But wait—weren't 14 people killed by gunfire in Chicago last weekend alone? Sadly, yes. (Pertinent point: Two of them were gunned down by police officers.) But that headline overshadowed the fact that, overall, Chicago's homicide total has been trending down—and last year reached a low it hadn't seen in half a century.
A similar pattern played out after the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United, which said the government could not prohibit the election-season distribution of a movie about Hillary Clinton just because it was produced by a corporation. Reaction from the left was hotter than thermite plasma.
The Court had given corporations the power to "overwhelm elections," fumed the New York Times corporation. A commentator from another corporation (MSNBC) declared the case the worst ruling since Dred Scott, which upheld slavery. President Obama said Citizens United "strikes at democracy itself." Others called the ruling a "constitutional Frankenstein moment," a "corporate takeover," "radical," "absurd" and "terrifying." Some progressives launched a campaign to rewrite the First Amendment. Really.
How did the predicted hostile takeover of democracy by corporate America turn out? In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, the Times reported: "American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by Karl Rove, spent $104 million in the general election, but none of its candidates won. The United States Chamber of Commerce spent $24 million backing Republicans in 15 Senate races; only two of them won. Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul, spent $53 million on nine Republican candidates, eight of whom lost." It was, as the paper noted, "A Landslide Loss for Big Money."
Nevertheless, after the court ruled this year against aggregate contribution limits in McCutcheon v. FEC, the same parties made the same dire predictions about the same dire consequences that were sure to follow. Lather, rinse, and repeat.
Then came Hobby Lobby, and the million or so predictions that future cases will lead to countless other religious exemptions from other federal mandates. Taliban Inc. is on the way!
Anything is possible, and all the many horribles the Court's critics have hypothesized could come to pass. There's always a chance. Why, in a few years, the health care marketplace might look just as it looked in those dark, primitive days of … July 2011, a month before the Department of Health and Human Services issued its insurance-coverage mandates.
In that event, employees of large companies could find themselves in the same boat as—well, employees of small companies. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees don't have to cover contraception. Or blood transfusions. Or immunizations, or emergency room care. In fact, small companies don't have to offer insurance at all.
Yet many do. Heck, for that matter, even Hobby Lobby covers contraception—16 kinds of it, excepting only four it considers contrary to the doctrines of faith. As a matter of fact, the AP reports, free birth control coverage is becoming the norm. Despite the Hobby Lobby ruling, "business groups and employee benefits consultants say they see little chance that employers will roll back contraceptive coverage." Imagine that.
Funny how things work out, isn't it? Time and again, the Supreme Court expands the boundaries of liberty. Time and again, statists predict that the sky will fall, the seven seals of Revelation will be opened, dogs and cats will start sleeping together—and then things will really start to go downhill. Yet time and again, the gloom and doom fail to materialize.
Maybe freedom isn't quite so dangerous after all.