What Else Is at Stake in the U.S. Election: the Supreme Court’s Legitimacy

What Else Is at Stake in the U.S. Election: the Supreme Court’s Legitimacy
President Donald Trump greets Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts before delivering his State of the Union address, in Washington, Feb. 4, 2020 (Pool photo by Leah Millis via AP Images).

Say goodbye to sleep, world, because it’s going to be nothing but fever dreams until noon on Jan. 20, 2021, when the United States holds its presidential inauguration. If you thought America looked crazy from afar the past few years, amid all the chaos of Donald Trump’s presidency, just wait until you see what one of the most punishing political contests in its history does to the psyches of 328 million people.

Before Tuesday, it might have been tempting to think that the U.S. would rest a little easier after the presidential polls closed and all the votes were counted. But, as this column went to press, President Donald Trump’s campaign had filed a flurry of legal challenges in key states that are still counting ballots, including to try to stop the vote count in Pennsylvania and Michigan. All the while, Trump keeps escalating his lies about “fraud” and attempts to “steal the election.”

Looming over all of this is the specter that the election could come down to the institutional leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court, which Trump has essentially begged to intervene on his behalf, specifically in Pennsylvania. On Wednesday, Trump’s campaign filed a motion to join a case filed earlier by the Republican Party pertaining to mail-in ballots there. “We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Trump declared in his 2 a.m. rant in the East Room of the White House after election night. “We want all voting to stop.” As the ostensible leader of its 6-3 conservative majority that now includes recently sworn-in Trump appointee Amy Coney Barrett, Roberts is facing a choice about how much high court intervention in the U.S. electoral process is too much before American democracy is fractured beyond repair.

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