Some observations on the Ohio vote last week:
To begin, the vote in Ohio on Issue 1, repudiating the Republican Party’s transparent attempt to deny voters the opportunity to either support or oppose abortion rights this coming November is a big deal — in Ohio and far beyond. It gives a lift and momentum to activists there and across the country which can make all the difference in the world in the year ahead. Victories beget popular energy, confidence and more victories.
Meanwhile, the defeat of Issue 1 in Ohio, and the size of the defeat, roughly 57% to 43%, is arguably a landslide and cannot but give pause and worry to the MAGA movement there and elsewhere. To some degree their confidence has to be shaken, leaving them wondering if what happened in Ohio is a headwind that will carry over into next year.
Second, the mobilizing power of Dobbs is striking, if not surprising. It’s a court ruling that won’t go away, that won’t be buried, even by our fast moving news cycle. Its announcement generated anger, awakened a movement, and fueled the rise of new oppositional constituencies, cutting across party, popular, and partisan lines. It is fair to say that the “judicial assassination” of abortion rights, courtesy of the MAGA majority on the Supreme Court a year ago, didn’t settle anything, anymore than the “Great Compromises,” in the 19th Century settled the “slave question.”
I’m not an historian, but, I suspect, a case can be made by someone who is that the Roberts Court finds no rival in the 20th century that matches its reactionary, anti-democratic character, nature, and actions. If the analytical reach, however, is widened into the 19th century, the Taney Court might, I would think, provide a worthy competitor for that infamous distinction.
Third, in turning abortion into a crime, Dobbs has turned the vote into a powerful weapon to contest, delegitimize, and rebuke this horrendous ruling. Isn’t this what we saw in Ohio last week? Voters – in city, suburb, and, to a lesser degree, in small towns and rural communities – went in droves to vote in order to give themselves the opportunity to inscribe abortion rights into their state constitution in November, to make abortion legal, safe, and available.
Fourth, what secured the victory in Ohio was not only the energy and righteousness of the coalition opposing referendum 1, but also the breadth and reach of that coalition. One without the other would be like a bird attempting to fly with only one wing. A similar pairing of energy and breadth will be required going forward into the next year if we hope to build upon this extraordinary victory in Ohio of our side.
Fifth, the rejection of this transparently anti-democratic maneuver is a reminder, if we needed one, that the Kansas vote, protecting women’s right to control their bodily autonomy, wasn’t an outlier. Barely a year later it looks as if it was but the first gale wind in a gathering storm across the country. It is also a cautionary tale against premature celebrations and wishful thinking that our opponents were guilty of when Dobbs was announced. It is fair to say that movement in an anti-democratic direction doesn’t automatically bring about a counter movement in a democratic one. But, in this case, it did.
Sixth, figuring also into any explanation of the election results is that Ohio voters are increasingly onto the Ohio Republican Party. They have watched its evolution into a party of right wing authoritarianism, dominated by Trump and his acolytes — Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, for one, comes to mind. By means of gerrymandering, voter repression, and legislative skullduggery, voters across the state have been disenfranchised. That it has been done in the language and images of racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, hostility toward immigrants from the Global South, and a counterfeit and ugly nationalism should come as no surprise. It’s the bread and butter of today’s Republican Party and the MAGA movement! Last week the tables started to turn.
What is more, up until last week, this method of anti-democratic governance appeared on the surface to “work.” But in rebuffing Issue 1, one has to think and hope that a new day is dawning in the Buckeye state.
Finally, in deciding in favor of Dobbs, the Supreme Court overturned a right that was considered deeply, many of us thought permanently, embedded in the legal and democratic fabric of our country. In so doing, the court impressed on tens of millions, including Ohio voters, the frightening fact that no rights are safe, as long as this court remains in place. This court isn’t a protector of rights, but a bulldozer of them. Much of what the MAGA movement can’t do politically and legislatively is off-loaded to the Roberts court which is only too happy to assist. For some time, it has been, according to the Linda Greenhouse, a brilliant analyst of the Supreme Court over many years, a wrecking ball, single-mindedly and methodically upending our constitutional and democratic order. But with the addition of three new justices of unassailable right wing authoritarian temperament and credentials, the Roberts court gives little weight to judicial restraint and legal precedent (stare decisis), even majority sentiment. If there are divisions and inhibitions among them, they are tactical in nature, involving the pace and timing of their judicial activism and onslaught on democratic rights and our democracy, not their disposition and aims. Is it any wonder that a conversation has begun of ways to restructure and reform the highest court in the land?