In what has been described by Justice Elena Kagan as “weaponizing the First Amendment,” as The New York Times reported July 1, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has reversed precedent that protected civil liberties. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, please don’t select (in Justice Kagan’s words) “black-robed rulers (who) override citizens’ choices.”

Justice Kagan stresses that this court has turned the First Amendment “into a sword.” The Supreme Court created this extreme danger to our nation, supplanting precedents based in liberty, under the due process clauses of the Fifth and 14th amendments that barred religious or racial discrimination. Now our court allows the First Amendment to override such civil liberties. Hence, the perpetrator of anti-liberty biases is protected by claims of First Amendment rights to free speech.

Now, a baker denies access to his product, justified in objecting to gay marriage by his freedom of speech and association. What happens to the long precedent giving civil rights to blacks sitting at counters and in buses? Under that same amendment, a person’s objection to union participation is permissible, overriding precedent that required some dues for union operations. A ban against travelers from some Muslim-majority nations is permissible, overriding precedent supporting liberty rights against religious bias. Citizens United allowed corporations to contribute to campaigns under free-speech rights, fueling a flood of political money and corrupting our democracy’s principles.

Attacks on reasonable regulation of guns, tobacco and pharmaceuticals stem from similar arguments. Equal to the risk of reversing Roe v. Wade are others if the court addresses civil liberties beyond the right to privacy established by Griswold and Roe.

Justice Stephen Breyer has commented that the First Amendment is now used to “strike down economic and social laws that legislatures long … have thought themselves free to enact.”

Anne Vaughan and Niles Schore