Stop Playing Croquet

By Don Mohler

This was supposed to be a blog about hope. It was supposed to shine a light on all that is good about our nation despite our current divisions. And then Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg left us. The outline that I had been carrying around in my head no longer seemed relevant. It didn’t capture the reality of the despair that so many are feeling.


Because elections have consequences, and those consequences have never been clearer.  With the passing of Justice Ginsberg, Donald Trump and his Republican sycophants are about to replace one of the great legal minds of our time with a justice whose judicial philosophy is, shall we say, more than just a tad to the right of center. By all accounts the replacement will be a middle age female jurist who will serve for decades and who will take away health care from millions of Americans, deprive women of their reproductive rights, and decimate the environment. Loving gay couples will once again be asked to go quietly back into the closet, transgender citizens won’t be able to use a public bathroom, and assault weapons will be as common as a cup of coffee on the streets of our nation. That’s the new normal on the Supreme Court in Donald Trump’s America.

Add to that the ongoing culture wars, the “GAG” issues that have dominated our political discourse for years- guns, abortion, and gays- throw in a dose of race for good measure, and a missive of hope just doesn’t cut it. This is going to happen. It is bad for our nation, and it is bad for the most vulnerable among us.

But this must be a wakeup call for the majority of Americans, including myself, who sat idly by and ignored what was happening right before our very eyes. For decades, Republicans have been playing smash mouth football, and we’ve been playing croquet. A punch to the face will beat the execution of a double bounce shot every single time.

You see, there is this little group that few have ever heard of called the “Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies,” commonly referred to as the “Federalist Society.” Formed in 1982, this tiny cabal has become the nation’s most influential legal organization. They are often referred to as “originalists,” and their jurisprudence is clearly out of the mainstream. But it is front and center in the Republican Party. With the President’s upcoming appointment to the Supreme Court, six of its nine members will all be privy to the group’s secret handshake.

Mitch McConnell and his cronies at the Federalist Society have been working to reshape the federal judiciary for decades.  In a 2018 interview with Time Magazine, McConnell said, “You could argue that it is my top priority. The impact that this Administration could have on the courts is the most long-lasting impact we could have.”  Yes, that’s the same Mitch McConnell who famously opined, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” He is such a patriotic American.

According to Pew Research, there are 792 active judges in the Supreme Court, Appeals Courts and District Courts. With the help of Team McConnell, Trump has appointed nearly 200 judges in his first three years. That is 24% of the total federal judiciary.

And if you still have any doubt that this group dictates who will serve on the federal courts, riddle me this: when asked about the outsized influence of the Society on appointments, former Republican Senator Orrin Hatch replied, “Some have accused President Trump of outsourcing his judicial selection process to the Federalist Society. I say, damn right!”

So do we fold up our tent and go home (or to Canada if they will have us?) or do we fight?  I suggest fight. Put down the croquet mallet and buckle up. And here’s what gets very little coverage: on the major issues of the day, it is Democratic policies that are wildly popular. What’s that you say? Here are just a few examples:

The most contentious of the cultural issues has always been abortion. It is intensely personal, yet the public is very clear as to what it prefers. According to a recent Marist Poll, 77% of Americans do not want Roe v Wade overturned. You would never know that in the Fox News echo chamber.

Well, what about guns? The nation must be opposed to gun-safety legislation right? Once again, it’s the Democratic positions that have wide support: 83% support background checks at private gun shows, 72% want national red flag laws, 61% would ban the sale of high capacity magazines, and 57% support an automatic weapons ban.

Regarding gay marriage, this past June Gallup reported the highest support ever on that issue in its poll, with 67% believing that gay marriage should be legal.

So on the “GAG” issues, it is the Democrats who have the wind at their backs. But what about health care and race?

The most recent Fox News Poll found that 56% of adults support the “Affordable Care Act,” and my guess is that number is growing as millions lose their coverage as a result of COVID 19.  But even more impressive, 68% of registered voters favor a “Medicare for All” health care system, including 46% of Republicans.

As for issues of race, just this past June 67% of Americans expressed support for the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Even after a summer of unrest, that number remains strong at 55%.

And just for good measure, throw in support for Social Security and Medicare that are both under attack by the current administration, and the trends are clear. The Trump Party is on the wrong side of every single major issue that is important to the American public.

So I didn’t think I’d be able to muster up any hope in these dark times, but I’ll be darned if a review of the facts didn’t snap me out of it. I’m back and ready to roll. Put me in coach. But, and this is a big but, we all have to fight. Republicans have been fighting for control of the courts for many years. They never gave up. They are about to reap their rewards.

So we have the playbook. We have to vote. We have to organize. In addition to Presidential election cycles, we have to focus on state and local government. We have to do what Laslo Boyd and Flora Wolf are doing in Pennsylvania with their organization “ChangePA.” They are organizing and raising money across the state to take back the Pennsylvania State House. Don’t bet against them. They aren’t playing croquet, and neither can we.

Yes, we are going to lose this battle, but we don’t have to lose the war.

Don Mohler is the former Baltimore County Executive. He may be reached at

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