United for Democracy: Labor-progressive coalition launches campaign to change Supreme Court
A graphic from the new United for Democracy coalition.

WASHINGTON—Several unions—including both U.S. teachers unions—two AFL-CIO constituency groups, Worker’s Circle, and approximately 100 other citizens’ and progressive groups have formed a mass coalition to get voters to pressure Congress to change the Supreme Court.

United For Democracy kicked off its drive with a $1 million TV, Facebook, and Twitter video ad campaign featuring people, including a Catholic priest, speaking out about how the justices are taking away people’s rights, and are corrupt as well. The ad didn’t name Justice Clarence Thomas, though one speaker at a press conference launching the coalition did. Thomas has taken millions of dollars in free trips and gifts from a right-wing Republican millionaire. His spouse, Ginny, is a right-wing lobbyist who was closely tied to the Trump White House.

“Extremists on the Supreme Court are rolling back our rights, interfering with individual freedoms, and shutting the door on opportunities that should be fully and equally available to all Americans. Join us.,” its headline tweet read.

“We are standing together to organize, fight back, and demand change,” said Campaign Director Stasha Rhodes. “This Supreme Court has grabbed unprecedented power,” isn’t ethical or accountable, and “is implementing an extreme agenda the American people continuously rejected.” The group wants “to make sure people understand what’s at stake and how they can demand action from Congress.”

Most founding groups cited the court’s destruction of the national right to abortion as the big reason to unite. But they added other causes, too: Corruption, campaign finance, workers’ rights, and pending High Court rulings against affirmative action and to reinstate student debt.

Two other cases also concerned speakers. One would give state legislatures—and only state legislatures—complete power over U.S. elections. The other would emasculate federal regulatory agencies, tie Congress in knots, and leave the courts as the law-making branch on a host of issues.

All mark a pervasive tilt towards the rich, the powerful, and the corporate class. “This is not a separate story” on each, but part of a whole said Slate Supreme Court analyst Dahlia Lithwick.

Speakers, including Lithwick, Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a former state Attorney General who has waged a one-man crusade against the baleful influence of dark money in politics, elaborated on that theme in a June 14 panel discussion.

High Court rulings opened the floodgates for that tsunami of corporate campaign cash to drown out everyone else, including workers. Whitehouse said the right wing has pumped at least $580 million over the last decade into a concerted campaign to remake the court and take it—and society—back to the days of the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which said slaves had no rights.

“The important thing is to get together around the common message of a ‘captured court,’” he said and elevate that alarm from “being issue #7 or #10” on the national agenda to the top tier. “Once we build a common platform of public support,” the coalition and its millions of members “can deal with the problem and explore opportunities” for changing the court’s radical right tilt.

That tilt has been the goal of Donald Trump, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, right-wing zealots, and deep-pocketed “millionaires and billionaires,” as one speaker said. “If you look at how often the Chamber of Commerce wins, how often unions lose, how often the gun industry wins, you see how the court is reshaping” its cases “to allow them to win,” added Lithwick.

Other coalition leaders posted statements or tweets about its mission before the June 14 leadoff. The panelists took no questions. An e-mail to campaign communications people bounced.

National Education Association President Becky Pringle, a Philadelphia science teacher who heads the nation’s largest union, of three million members, posted a tweet and a statement.

“We all want our rights respected. But we have seen the extreme majority on the Supreme Court roll back our basic freedoms. That is why NEA is proud to join the @WeAreUFD coalition, to demand a court that represents all of us—not just the powerful few,” Pringle tweeted. The written statement warned the justices “are just getting started imposing their hyper-conservative, radical agenda on us with more devastating decisions expected.”

The coalition also includes AFT and its Albert Shanker Institute, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the Service Employees, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, and Workers Circle.

“The Supreme Court had almost always viewed the Constitution as one that protected and expanded freedom, not restricted it. This court fundamentally changed that,” said Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher who also has a law degree.

Donning her teachers’ hat, Weingarten said the court—meaning its Republican-named majority—“isn’t calling balls and strikes,” as Chief Justice John Roberts pledged to senators almost 20 years ago. “The people who wear the robes cannot pretend to go back to the world of 200 or 300 years ago,” but they’re doing that. It’s up to us to force Congress to stop them, said Weingarten.

“Ideology rules, so people must understand we have the power to change things.”

The coalition’s first 1-minute ad opens with a bearded Catholic priest identified as Father Rick saying “The Supreme Court has been captured by right-wing extremists.” Jermaine, a history and English teacher who is Black, adds: “They’re furthering an extreme agenda.”

Then Lori Haas, mother of a Virginia Tech daughter wounded in a mass shooting there, adds “They’re making it harder to keep our families safe.” Rick appears again: “My faith runs deep. The government should not be making healthcare decisions for the people that I serve.”

The ad shifts to Steve, identified as a veteran and a gun owner: “I was in the Army. I own guns. But we can protect our children and respect the rule of law.” “Not if corrupt justices prioritize helping the powerful gain more power,” Rick jumps in. “It’s time Congress acts.”

It concludes with a series of short statements by all of them: “For my students.” “For our country.” “For

the air we breathe.” ”For the safety of our communities.” “Join us,” Steve concludes. The ad ends with the logo “United for Democracy” and the demand: “Tell Congress to rein in this dangerous Supreme Court.”

Besides Pringle, union and other leaders issued their own statements before the coalition’s kickoff.

“From the environment to students to reproductive justice, when the Supreme Court issues rulings that benefit elites and corporations, rolls back the policies favored by most Americans, and attacks our core freedoms, working families are hurt the most,” said CLUW Executive Director Virginia Rodino. “We must stand together to take back our court, not leave it in the hands of a few monied interests who don’t care about the rest of us.”

In her advance statement, Weingarten said the justices forfeited their legitimacy, making clear she meant the Republican-named High Court majority. The coalition is “society saying ‘Enough is enough.’ It is long past time for Congress to protect the people and make the Supreme Court a functional part of our democracy, rather than central to its crisis,” she added.

“Another day of silence is another day we are closer to being on the chopping block of the conservative agenda,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. “We recognize the urgent need to protect workers’ rights, and it’s our responsibility to shed light on how Supreme Court decisions are hurting and alienating our members and all the working people who feed us, care for us, entertain us, build our shelters and our schools, and make our everyday life possible. We join this campaign to save our democracy.”

“Extremists on the Supreme Court are imperiling our freedom and democracy, undermining voting rights, worker rights, abortion rights, as well as gun violence and environmental protections. Their collective actions have led to a civil liberties and humanitarian crisis,” said Ann Toback, CEO of Workers’ Circle, founded more than a century ago by Jewish immigrants—many of them sweatshop workers—who fled Eastern European oppression, autocracy, and pogroms.

Other founding members include Our Revolution—the Bernie Sanders supporters from his 2016 presidential campaign—Indivisible, the Alliance For Justice, MoveOn, NARAL, and March For Our Lives, the student-led and politically effective pro-gun control group founded by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Florida on Valentine’s Day, 2018.

Joining them are the National Employment Law Project, the NAACP’s youth division, Black Voters Matter, Catholics For Choice, the Center For Popular Democracy, The Drum Major Institute—run by two of Dr. Martin Luther King’s children—Equality California, Friends of the Earth, Indivisible, mainline Protestant and Jewish groups, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Newtown Action Alliance, Take Back The Court, Texas Gun Sense, Ultraviolet, and others.

The coalition wants the “American public to understand the impact of the court’s decisions and to demand the democracy we need,” Toback concluded.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.