It is difficult to overestimate the role of the United States Supreme Court in today’s America. That said, the right-wing attack on worker protections continues with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. While I am sure much attention will be focused on Kavanaugh’s stance on abortion rights and the legal immunity of sitting Presidents, the memo issued by the White House upon his nomination highlights an issue that is of great importance to the workplace and the lives of our members. This statement from the Trump Administration lauded the Supreme Court nominee for his strong stance opposing Administrative agencies, stating “Judge Kavanaugh has overruled federal agency action 75 times. . . protects American businesses from illegal job-killing regulation. . . helped kill President Obama’s most destructive new environmental rules.”
Kavanaugh has taken stances on the authority of Federal Agencies to regulate everything from worker safety to the environment more akin to view the Court held in the early 1900’s than todays law. These views have repeatedly leaned toward an economic system that favors corporations being free to act as they will with the believe that bad-behavior will be punished through loss of business. This kind of thinking was shown to be dangerous by Progressives in the early 1900’s, spurred in part by exposes of the results of these policies such as Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle which exposed the appalling working conditions in the meat-packing industry. Sinclair’s description of diseased, rotten, and contaminated meat shocked the public and led to new federal food safety laws. Many courts at the time found laws such as these an illegal restraint of trade, but society and right minded elected officials and jurists finally won the day.
From these sorts of victories came Agencies like OSHA, which made workers safer and punished companies for putting their workers at risk, the EPA that cleaned up our water, our air, and the earth we walk upon, the SEC that regulated insider trading and banking fraud, the list goes on and on. Under the Trump administration and a Supreme Court of Kavanaugh’s these sorts of agencies would be handcuffed from regulating business. Each of these agencies is in place to protect the average American from the corporate oligarchy of the Gilded Age and the ultra-rich of present day resent those protections, in their minds we are chattel to be done with as they see fit.
While for many people other issues will take center stage at upcoming hearings on Kavanaugh, in the long run and in the daily lives of working people it is Kavanaugh’s beliefs on the role of Federal Agencies which may mean more than anything. Imagine a workplace where only Management decides what level of exposure to harmful chemicals is okay and not okay, or where guarding of machinery is no longer required. If the current direction of the court and the right is not diverted you won’t have to imagine long, because you’ll be living it.