How the Little Sisters of the Poor tripped the circuit

Raise your hand if you expected the Supreme Court’s response to the Little Sisters of the Poor case yesterday. No one, right? I know! I had very little hope that they would rule in favor of the sisters, and I didn’t expect any response at all until summer at the earliest.  There hasn’t been a decision yet, but they did basically ask the sisters, “Okay, fine, we’re out of ideas. What do you think would work?”

That’s no victory, of course, but it’s no defeat, either. A couple of things made me laugh as I was thinking over the situation. First, it looks like the GOP has accidentally blundered into a good deed for once. I had been so mad at them for refusing to even consider Merrick Garland. I get that they are super mad at Obama for being Obama, and I get that it’s super unfair that an outgoing president should get to exert such influence over the makeup of the court. But Garland was really the best that anyone could hope for, unless we think that Hillary or Trump were planning to use their necromancy skills to nominate zombie Scalia. Which they were not. The stonewalling was yet another example of the dysfunctional and spiteful short-sightedness of the party. It feels so good to lash out now, and who cares about next week? Bah. It’s like they’re all five years old.

But look what happened. The court was split 4-4 when the Little Sisters’ case came up, and if they couldn’t come to an agreement, then the decision would automatically bounce back down to the lower courts’ previous decisions, which is an inconsistent mess that was guaranteed to bubble back up to the supreme court again eventually. Nobody wants that. So the court was very motivated to search around for some kind of workable solution.

This brings me to the second thing that made me laugh yesterday. I realized that this is, in fact, the way the constitution was designed: to be so cumbersome and complicated that, out of sheer frustration, we sometimes get backed into doing the right thing. What a marvelous machine! It’s like a circuit breaker. We have this moment of panic when the lights go out, but then we realize that it’s better than the entire system getting fried. Turns out we can’t run the air conditioner and the space heater at the same time — and when you think about it, why would you want to? Pick one. What kind of house are we going to live in, hot or cold? Just stop and think, why don’t you?

This country isn’t over yet, and it’s our dysfunction that might actually save us. What do you know about that?


image of “Contemplation of Justice” photo By Daderot

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