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Column: Supreme Court rulings could bring young voters to their boiling point
08292018 TOM BAXTER
Tom Baxter

You might think it irrelevant to begin by talking about how hot it has been in this late spring and early summer, after Roe v. Wade has been overturned. But then, you might be a boomer.

The generation that grew up long after Roe was decided, which has practiced school shooter drills as a routine part of public education, and which, most importantly, will live to see far hotter summers than this, is processing the events of the last few days differently than their elders.

An AJC headline declared Monday that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision reversing nearly 50 years of precedent on abortion puts the Republican Party in a “tough position.” It also puts the Democratic Party in a tough position, especially with the rising generation of voters it is counting on to show up big this fall.

A number of younger voters expressed their online fury Friday at the Democratic fundraising appeals that went out as soon as the abortion decision was announced. They even ridiculed the Democratic House members who gathered on the Capitol steps to sing “God Bless America” after the ruling.

Those younger voters who agree with the Democrats on issues are growing increasingly impatient with the party’s inability to get things done, and anything that smacks of the status quo draws their derision.

One of the issues that polls say they care about is guns, the subject of New York Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, the case decided by the high court last Thursday. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the abortion case decided the next day, drew greater national attention, but the voters coming out of high school and college this year have had the occasion to think about gun violence in their developing years a lot more than abortion. 

Dobbs has caused considerable alarm in the younger cohort, but the emotion is very fresh. In recent years much of the energy behind the abortion rights movement has come from women old enough to remember the world before Roe.

“I don’t know a girl who isn’t upset about it,” a recent high school graduate said last weekend about the Dobbs decision.

How much that agitation evolves into political action is still an unsettled question. It will depend a lot on the stories that will emerge after the new wave of restrictive laws take effect.

Back in the 1960s, a woman named Sherry Finkbine, who had taken thalidomide before it was known the drug could cause deformities, sought and was denied approval for an abortion in Arizona. Her case, which ended in her traveling to Sweden for an abortion, drew a lot of national attention and had some bearing on the Roe decision that came later.

 We don’t know yet what individual story will emerge from the rest to capture the nation’s attention, whether it will involve a well-to-do White woman as it did then, or where it will end. It can only be said with certainty that it’s coming.

As much as the decisions rendered last Thursday and Friday will shape the political attitudes of this rising generation, there’s another case on the court’s docket that has the potential to matter even more. That’s West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, which could be coming down next week.

Joined by two coal companies and 19 Republican attorney generals, West Virginia is challenging the EPA’s authority to regulate power plant emissions and arguing that only Congress should be given this authority.

 Consider how long it took Congress to pass the modest gun control bill signed last week, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s announced intention to seek a nationwide abortion ban. Imagine that same Congress taking the lead responsibility for regulating greenhouse gas emissions, at a time when the warnings about climate change are growing increasingly desperate.

While their elders have been debating abortion and gay marriage, which to most of them are non-issues, the country has grown progressively warmer, more arid and more susceptible to fires and storms. A voter born in 2000 has already lived through 14 of the 15 hottest years on record, according to the UN World Meteorological Organization.

Small wonder, then, that younger voters are sharply more aware of this issue than their elders seem to be. If they are impatient, frustrated and contemptuous of boomers now, the last case on the court’s summer docket could drive them to the boiling point.

Tom Baxter is a veteran Georgia journalist who writes for The Saporta Report. His column publishes weekly in The Times.