Once again, everything is fucked.

In a truly insane oral argument last week, a majority of Supreme Court justices seemed ready to destroy public education and force states to fund private religious schools.

The case is Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue and the battle is over whether it's constitutional for states to refuse to fund private religious schools. And our rightwing Supreme Court, with five justices who went to Catholic schools at some point in their lives, seemed ready to absolutely obliterate the wall that separates church and state.

On the steps of the Supreme Court, petitioner Karen Espinoza made it clear that was her goal, saying:

We are a Christian family and I want those values taught at school. Our morals as a society come from the Bible.

So that's great.


Here's the deal

Believe it or not, Montana has a pretty badass state constitution. Like many other states, it rewrote its constitution in the 1970s. And most of the changes they made were actually awesome.

One of the amendments added to the Montana Constitution in 1972 was an amendment to prohibit the state from funding private religious schools. Thirty-seven other states have similar provisions. Now, fundamentalists who want to force their religion on the rest of the country are trying to say laws and constitutional amendments like these are prohibited by the US Constitution.

And the federal government under the Trump regime is, of course, on the side of religious extremism. The Solicitor General's office was at the oral argument, likening a prohibition on funding religious education to discriminating on the basis of race.

If the Montana Supreme Court had invalidated this program because it included historically African-American schools or all-girl schools, that would be a straightforward equal-protection violation. Nothing about it would be cured by the fact that other parents had been denied funding as well.

The case, in a nutshell, is this: Montana had a scholarship program that gave $150 to parents who sent their children to private schools. Because of the state constitution, the scholarship couldn't be used for religious schools. So the Montana Supreme Court invalidated the entire scholarship program.

If you're wondering what the petitioners can even appeal, since the entire program was scrapped, you're not the only one. Several justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, questioned Ms. Espinoza's lawyers and the US government's attorney about why they shouldn't rule that this case is moot.

But on the whole, the Court's five rightwing justices seemed more than ready to both overturn the Montana Supreme Court's decision and possibly all state constitutional amendments that prohibit public funding of religious schools.

This is nuts and could essentially destroy public education and the separation of church and state as we know them.

The reactionaries on the Court made their opinions clear. Kegs Kavanaugh, who had some of the best years of his life drinking beer and sexually assaulting girls at Jesuit high school Georgetown Prep, argued that protecting the separation of church and state is based "in grotesque religious bigotry against Catholics."

And Alito, who has never really believed that separation of church and state is a thing, used an analogy of a state having a scholarship program where someone says,"Wow, these are mostly going to blacks and we don't like that and that's contrary to state law."

Amazingly, I think his point was that there could be no permissible reason for state-sponsored scholarships to "mostly go[] to blacks[.]

Wow.

Alito also had fun deliberately misconstruing Montana's argument, claiming the state's lawyer was arguing in favor of religious discrimination.

Basically what you're saying is, the difference between this and race is, it's permissible to discriminate on the basis of religion. It's not permissible, ever, to discriminate on the basis of --of race. That's what you're saying.

Sooooo, oral argument wasn't great.

Not only would a ruling for Ms. Espinoza kill the principle of church and state; it could also destroy our public education system. As Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers said,

If it rules in favor of the petitioners, "the Supreme Court will be responsible for unleashing a virtual earthquake in this country that threatens both religious liberty and public education."

Yikes

Yeah, so this is bad. But it remains to be seen just how bad this particular case will be.

The Court has a few different options of where to go with this one. The best hope for the rule of law is that John Roberts will decide the petitioners don't have standing to appeal or that the case is now moot. The scholarship is gone, there's no discrimination happening, end of story.

But if a majority of the justices decide Ms. Espinoza has standing and the case isn't moot, it looks like something pretty fucked up is going to happen. Kegs and Alito made it clear during oral argument that they would happily get rid of all laws and constitutional amendments prohibiting public funding of religious schools. That would both destroy the principle of separation of church and state and completely upend the entire school system in the United States, requiring states to fund private, religious schools along with public schools.

But, even if it rules in favor of state funding of religious schools, the Court doesn't have to go that far. It could limit the decision specifically to the facts of this case and make it clear that laws protecting the separation of church and state are constitutional.

But I'm not holding my breath.

This case is incredibly dangerous, as are the far-right extremists on this Court.

If it weren't for Mitch McConnell, liberals would be in the majority on the Supreme Court and we would be having a much different conversation. Instead, we have Neil Gorsuch and Kegs with appointments to the highest court in the country for the rest of their lives.

Elections have consequences. Remember that as we get closer to the 2020 election.


Here's the full, absolutely bonkers transcript:


[ Transcript ]

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Jamie Lynn Crofts
Jamie Lynn Crofts is sick of your bullshit. When she’s not wrangling cats, she’s probably writing about nerdy legal stuff, rocking out at karaoke, or tweeting about god knows what. Jamie would kindly like to remind everyone that it’s perfectly legal to tell Bob Murray to eat shit.
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