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The war on (little) women and other insanities

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The Supreme Court's minor mistakes have few systemic consequences. But when the Supremes make a big mistake, the error tends to seep throughout the entire political process, poisoning everything in its path.

That was what happened with the Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision, which intensified the passions and accelerated the dynamics that led to the Civil War -- and to 600,000 Americans killing each other. That was what happened when the Court got it wrong again in Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 decision that declared segregated public facilities constitutional: three-and-a-half generations of American politics were distorted by a fierce struggle between segregationists and integrationists, with the Democratic Party held hostage to its fever-swamp wing.

And that is what happened with Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion on demand across the country. Ever since, the abortion issue has been the most bitterly contested in our public life, and Roe has distorted everything from free speech to religious freedom to health care legislation (dental insurers are being queried by federal regulators as to whether their coverage includes abortion--dental insurers!). Those distortions confirm that the Court got it fundamentally wrong in 1973.

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