Reason Roundup

Justice Anthony Kennedy Retires, Everyone Flips Out: Reason Roundup

Plus: Vermont's GMO-labeling law backfires, Kansas kicks Vermin Supreme off the ballot.


The end of democracy?!?! The upcoming retirement of Anthony Kennedy, announced by the 81-year-old U.S. Supreme Court justice yesterday, has struck fear and glee into the hearts of people concerned about the future of abortion access in this country—and not without reason. It's also spawned a fair share of apoplectic doomsaying about the future of same-sex marriage, contraception access, and democracy itself.

Let's start with Slate, which opens its piece on Kennedy's retirement thusly:

When he heard that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was retiring on Wednesday, a friend in his twenties told me: "Today is the darkest political moment my generation has experienced."

"What about the day Trump was elected?" I asked in surprise.

"This is worse," he responded. "It's the day Trump consolidates his power."

Or here, for instance, was the headline at Splinter:

And here is the cover of New York's Daily News today:

The Slate piece centers on a common refrain: the fearsome tailspin launched by Kennedy's retirement and what it could mean is a sign that "the institutions meant to constrain [the Trump administration] are proving far more pliant than we might have feared." Some say it shows there's too much power vested in the Supreme Court.

But this interpretation is predicated on all these doomsday predictions being true. It is, at the very least, premature, and reads a lot like the kind of narcissistic dystopian melodrama everyone loves to conjure up for their side these days. The speed with which progressive activists and serious media types reached for the Handmaid's Tale analogies again is telling.

In any case, much of the concern (or dismissal of it) rings hollow from the ranks of those who tweet very different tunes when the court or Congress seems stacked another way…

…which isn't to say it's premature to start mobilizing against potentially awful picks or any negative consequences that could come from them—and people already are.

(For more on potential nominees, see this post from Eric Boehm.)

But being smart on this front takes avoiding the trap of thinking we live in uniquely democracy-challenging (or racist, or misogynistic, etc) times, and that's not something either Democrats or Republicans are (or aim to be) good at. Obama is coming for your guns has given way to get an IUD now before SCOTUS bans them! And hysteria on both sides drives unproductive policy discussion as well as truly painful cable news segments.

For an even-handed look at Kennedy's legacy, see this piece from Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy. As for what this could actually mean for abortion access—and politics—in this country: "Kennedy was the firewall for abortion rights for as long as he was there," Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the Florida State University, told The New York Times.

He has been the defining force in American abortion law since the '90s, so his absence means that Roe will be much more in peril. A decision overturning Roe is way more likely. A series of decisions hollowing out Roe without formally announcing that's what's going on is pretty likely, too.

As long as Kennedy was the swing vote, there wasn't even really much of a point in asking the court to overturn Roe; now, we're kind of in a brave new world. The question now is: 'Who are you talking to? Who's the swing vote? Who do you need to win over?' It's a complete game-changer.

But in what direction the game will go is anyone's guess.



Adventures in GMO labeling. After Vermont passed a law in 2014 requiring foods made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) be labeled as such, "GMO-labeling initiatives were soon popping up on ballots all over the country, and Congress eventually passed a national labeling law in 2016," notes The Atlantic in a new exploration of Vermont's adventures in GMO labeling.

In the heat of political battle, both sides presented the labeling situation as do-or-die. The Organic Consumers Association, which supported labeling, likened mandatory GMO labels to a "kiss of death" and credited them for driving GMOs out of grocery stores in Europe. On the other hand, opponents of labels argued that they would unnecessarily scare shoppers, as GMOs pose no unique threat to safety despite the negative public perception of them. A GMO label, National Geographic wrote in 2016, might as well be "a skull-and-crossbones." Tens of millions of dollars were spent in the fights, most of by food companies opposed to labeling.

And after all that?

A new study has found that Vermont's GMO labeling law may have even decreased opposition to GMOs.


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