Wineke: Authority without accountability won’t work long

Wisconsin Supreme Court

MADISON, Wis. — It is becoming increasingly clear that a lot of our institutions are now facing crises of authority unaccompanied by accountability.

The supreme courts of both the United States and Wisconsin, are examples.

Each has authority. If we are to live in a nation of laws, then somebody has to be responsible for making final decisions about what the law is and, in our country and our state, that body is a supreme court.

Yet, recent polls show that only about a quarter of American citizens actually trust the U.S. Supreme Court to make good decisions.

The recent abortion decision is a prime example. The court didn’t just throw out a right that people have had for a half-century, it also threw out the legal justification for that right, calling into question the future legality of everything from same-sex marriage to birth control.

In a matter of a few days, the court also limited the rights of states and municipalities to regulate the ability of people to carry handguns around, basically erased provisions separating church and state, and assured Louisiana that it is perfectly acceptable to disenfranchise Black people.

It is true that elections have consequences. It is also true that three of the current Supreme Court justices were nominated by a president who may well end up being indicted for trying to overthrow the government.

And it is thirdly true that four of the six justices who are issuing these draconian decisions essentially lied to Congress about their positions. They assured Congress that they truly believed Roe v Wade was settled law and then signed on to a decision that said in essence, yes, but who cares?

In Wisconsin, our Supreme Court just ruled that Gov. Tony Evers has no right to replace heads of state regulatory bodies unless the Republican legislature agrees.

Which, of course, it doesn’t. The Republicans rule the legislature no matter how many votes Democrats receive, which is due to other state Supreme Court decisions.

Actually, Evers is subject to accountability without authority. Voters hold him responsible for how the state is run but the legislature won’t let him run the state. The legislators, in turn, are accountable but only to the citizens of their rural districts.

So far, this is all working out well for the right-wing of American politics. That, however, is only a temporary phenomenon.

In the long run, things don’t work out well when everyone in a society is angry.

The courts have the authority to make decisions but if no one accepts their legitimacy, the legitimacy of the entire governing system is called into question.

That’s probably not a good thing.