In Washington during the pandemic, I passed by the Supreme Court building often on the way to the Library of Congress. One of the classically inspired “marble temples” built well into the 20th century, it’s also one of the largest, constructed long after the White House and Capitol became symbols of government known throughout the world.

For nearly the first century and a half of its existence the Supreme Court had no such cachet. Its original chamber was in the bowels of the Capitol; it was only during the Civil War that it moved upstairs to the old Senate Chamber.

A great improvement, it nonetheless left space only for the courtroom and robing rooms; the justices worked from home and met for conferences at the home of the chief justice.

At the Capitol, there was casual intermingling between judges, reporters and elected officials that produced what to us would be shocking anomalies, including presidential ambitions from several sitting justices.

Since then, judging has become highly professionalized, with those passing from political to judicial appointments, or vice versa, vanishingly rare.

Nevertheless, as I surveyed the razor wire and barricades flanking the Supreme Court far longer than even the Capitol where the January 6 assault had taken place, it seemed we had lost something important.


The court and its justices with their lifetime appointments have become utterly remote from ordinary life, as if they were truly issuing their pronouncements from on high and not the world where the rest of us dwell.

How else to explain the extraordinary series of decisions starting in 2022 that have disrupted and thrown into even greater turmoil an already volatile situation?

When Justice Samuel Alito’s 5-4 opinion in the Dobbs case was handed down, a woman’s right to choose abortion – constitutionally guaranteed for two generations – was wiped out overnight.

It instantly produced a huge divide in states where legislatures were controlled by Republicans vs. those with Democratic majorities – even though public attitudes in every state hardly vary, remaining strongly pro-choice.

The following year, Justice Clarence Thomas’s opinion in the Bruen case struck down concealed weapons permits in New York, a system most states maintained for more than a century. The decision built on a 2008 ruling voiding a handgun ban in Washington, D.C., concluding for the first time the Second Amendment provides an individual right to firearms.

Based on the text’s plain language, for 200-plus years courts concluded the Second Amendment confers a collective, not individual right of defense.


It took a far-right majority to “discover” this new right just as schoolchildren nationwide have been terrorized by the possibility of being shot in their classrooms. Not our concern, say the court’s majority.

This year features a pending decision potentially even more momentous than Dobbs and Bruen.

Former president Donald Trump claims a right to absolute immunity for all official acts – even those that could have overturned his 2020 loss to Joe Biden by refusing to leave office.

In a ringing decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals, Trump’s contentions were forcefully rejected. No one can be above the law, it ruled.

The Supreme Court could have accepted the judgment, but instead decided to hear the case. Discussion at oral arguments April 25 was not encouraging.

Justice Alito, in particular, seemed to inhabit an alternate legal universe, ignoring the former president’s words and actions to focus on a future president who might be reluctant to leave office if Trump is held accountable.


Here are the facts: The events of Jan. 6 happened more than three years ago. Indictments charging Trump with conspiracy were handed up nearly a year ago.

The notion a trial needs to be further delayed, or that the case should be remanded to a lower court, is legally preposterous.

Well over a thousand people have been charged, and many imprisoned, for crimes related to the Capitol assault. Should the man who inspired, or perhaps provoked all of them remain unaccountable?

The Supreme Court, as it did in rejecting Richard Nixon’s effort to withhold the Watergate tapes, should speak unanimously on Trump’s immunity claims. That appears far from likely.

Yet things can change. House Speaker Mike Johnson dithered for months before finally agreeing that, yes, it makes sense to arm Ukraine against an illegal invasion by Russia’s dictator, who is among other things trying to destroy an emerging democracy.

This court has until June, or perhaps early July to get this right and allow the most important trial Trump now faces to proceed before the November election.

The American people want and deserve a clear judgment about his guilt or innocence. Further delay is intolerable.

Douglas Rooks has been a Maine editor, columnist and reporter since 1984. He is the author of four books, most recently a biography of U.S. Chief Justice Melville Fuller, and welcomes comment at

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