Bret Stephens: Hello, Gael. We’ve had two monumental Supreme Court decisions in the last week, on guns and abortion. It might not be a good question, but which of them scares, appalls, enrages or makes you want to bang your head against the wall the most?
Gail Collins: I feel totally traumatized by them both – although, I admit, I pretty much expected everything that happened.
Brett: A line that goes around: It’s like knowing daylight saving time is coming and turning your clock back 50 years.
Gael: Maybe I feel more intense about the gun decision because I know how many great colleagues are mobilizing against the abortion decision. Here we are in New York, which is relatively speaking a very safe city, thanks in large part to the local gun laws that we observed. But the conservative attachment to law and order disappears whenever it gets in the way of the right’s attachment to their guns.
Sorry, I’m fuming. Your thoughts?
Brett: You are not complaining at all. Or rather, go wild.
Gael: OK, if I’m allowed to rant, I’ll get to the abortion decision after all. Just read Clarence Thomas’ agreement that this is only the first step – the next targets: same-sex marriage and the general right of women to buy contraceptives.
Brett: Give him one point for his honesty, which is more than can be said for Brett Kavanaugh.
Gael: I wrote some time ago wondering if the Texas anti-abortion law of last September would be the first step in a war against any form of birth control more effective than the rhythm method, but I don’t m didn’t expect the idea to come up in a Supreme Court. opinion.
I know that was just from Thomas’ comments, but it’s so important to see where that kind of thinking is pointing. The power of a woman to decide if she wants to be pregnant was totally the key to our liberation. Take it out and you’re back to a time when women were supposed to quit their jobs after they got married because there was no effective way of knowing when they would get pregnant. And to avoid sex altogether if they were single for fear of getting pregnant and ruining their reputation and career.
OKAY. It’s time for you to come in here.
Brett: Agree with everything you say. For me, the word that comes to mind is arrogance. Supreme arrogance.
In the gun decision, the court denies New York State the normal democratic right to decide for itself how it should go about ensuring domestic tranquility, which is the basic function of government. In the Mississippi abortion case, the court is doing something closer to the opposite: giving a state government the unfettered ability to erase an individual right that, until last Friday, had been upheld by the court for almost five decades.
That said, I’m probably not as gloomy as you on this. There might even be positives.
Gael: Oh my God, tell me what – quick.
Brett: Maybe it’s all just lipstick on the proverbial pig, but three things.
Politically, the past week has been very good for Democrats. The national conversation suddenly shifted from the price of goods to invaluable goods: personal security and choice. There is now a chance that Democrats will occupy the Senate in November. They could also begin to win back some of the seats they lost in state legislatures, where the future of abortion rights will be decided.
Gael: Republican Party, here’s how far you’ve fallen: Bret Stephens encourages Democrats to take control of all legislatures.
Brett: As long as it’s pro-business, pro-police, pro-Israel and pro-charter schools. Mike Bloomberg, in other words.
My second point of optimism is that, medically speaking, we are in a different world than in 1972 or 1973. Abortion pills that work up to the 10th week of pregnancy are now widely available and, since December, can be obtained by mail. Far from an ideal solution, I know, but it helps to mitigate the effects of the court’s decision.
Gael: Waiting for the Texas legislature to attack pharmacies next. I’m really not confident in the long run, but you’re right for now. And that’s one of the reasons why the gun decision drove me even crazier.
Brett: Last glimmer of optimism: New York and other states whose gun laws are affected by the court ruling will find legal solutions to lessen the effects of the ruling, such as adding training requirements.
Gael: Yes, but it won’t be as easy for the police to be effective in suppressing illegal weapons. Or to contain the flood of DIY weapon kits that arrive in the mail.
One idea that you’ve suggested in the past that sounds really appealing today is to create skill standards. Everyone who owns a firearm must be able to pass a test that shows they have at least a minimal ability to hit the thing they are pointing at.
Brett: At the time, the National Rifle Association was known primarily as a group that taught marksmanship and the safe handling of firearms. Maybe he can come back to that instead of being the lobbying juggernaut that facilitates one massacre a month.
Gael: If I thought everyone packing heat in New York would only shoot their target, I’d still be opposed to this change, just not as scared as I am now. I have a strong impression that a lot of people with guns have little or no training, and to tell you the truth, my experience with the police suggests that while a lot of them have good intentions, a lot of between them do not aim well.
Brett: Remind me to tell you the story of the shootout my parents got into, when a “good guy with a gun” started shooting bad guys with guns that were robbing our home in Mexico . Fortunately, the coffee table under which my mother took refuge was solid mahogany.
Gael: Wow, I want details before next week. And Bret, before I leave this topic, I have to admit – unfortunately, unfortunately, unfortunately – that we might not be having this disastrous moment if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had not refused to retire before Barack Obama left his functions.
I’m a total Justice Ginsburg fan – cherish the memory of a day I spent with her while she was on the court. But she was over 80, people were begging her to step down, and she just seemed to hang on to the hope that Hillary Clinton would be the next president.
Brett: In all honesty, she wasn’t alone in the wait.
Gael: If the court was split 5-4 instead of 6-3, we might still have gotten some bad rulings in these cases, but Chief Justice John Roberts made it clear that he would have pushed things closer to the middle if he had the numbers.
Brett: As you know, Gail, I supported the nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Kavanaugh – although I did not support Amy Coney Barrett. I thought their judicial temperament was closer to Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, who both supported Roe in the 1992 Casey decision, than to the moral fervor of Judges Thomas or Samuel Alito. It’s a good time for me to admit that I was wrong and you were right.
Gael: I love it when you do that.
Brett: My admissions of error are like Bill Clinton’s goals for abortion: safe, legal and rare.
Gael: Before I leave guns and abortion for the day, I want to send a shout out to senators, especially Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who passed a real gun reform bill last week. It’s not the kind of law banning assault rifles that many of us wanted, but it got things done – expanding background checks on young gun buyers, encouraging laws warning signs that facilitate the removal of weapons from persons whose records indicate that they are Potentially Dangerous.
Brett: And congratulations also to some Republican senators, especially John Cornyn of Texas, who showed the political courage to lead a bipartisan effort. Cornyn is what the other senator from Texas is not: an adult.
Gael: It’s not super-reform, but Congress has at least done something – for the first time in years. And then, alas, the Supreme Court managed to divert our attention with its terrible horror.
Brett: One of the things I’ve learned from talking to you, Gail, is that history is full of even more radical horrors that put our own into perspective. On Friday, I met a close family friend, Luis Stillmann, a Mauthausen concentration camp survivor whose story I chronicled in a column a few years ago. He turned 100 in December. He has just returned from a trip to Europe. He and his wife, Buba, an Auschwitz survivor, are busy planning another trip to Israel in November to visit their beloved Weizmann Institute of Science.
If Luis and Buba can stay positive and forward-looking, so can we.