The Supreme Court Cited “Ordered Liberty” to Overturn “Roe.” What’s Next?

What the hell is “ordered liberty”? This archaic legal term is not well-known in the United States, but it shows the direction in which current attacks on civil rights and freedoms are heading.

Right-wing members of the Supreme Court used the term “ordered liberty” — defined as “freedom limited by the need for order in society” — 16 times throughout their recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health OrganizationDecision overturned Roe v. Wade.

The U.S. defense of state repression, legalized through the USA PATRIOT Act, was also based on the same legal term. For example, former President George W. Bush’s attorney general, John Ashcroft, discussed “ordered liberty” in depth at the Eighth Circuit Judges ConferenceIn Duluth, Minnesota in 2002 to justify the PATRIOT Act’s overreaching powers. The act used Islamophobia as a tool to create new law enforcement agencies and legal departments, and increased surveillance. These laws and policies were used to increase police power against Black protestors of violence and immigrants going about their day.

Both Bush administrations relied heavily upon the legal playbooks and reports, as well as staffing recommendations, generated by the Federalist Society, which was founded in 1982. Made up of tens of thousands of conservative law students, faculty and scholars, including Ashcroft, the Federalist Society has strategically advanced the legal concept of “ordered liberty.” Leonard Leo, a former president and current board chair of the Federalist Society, has been identified as a major force behind this Supreme Court’s judicial nominations.

The idea that freedoms could be “limited by the need for order in society” is dangerous because it enables right-wing forces that are in power to determine what “order” means and what freedoms should be limited.

A pregnant woman can have a miscarriage in an authoritarian world of order liberty and be charged with murder. Their world allows only Christians to exercise religious freedom and Muslims to be monitored and registered. In their world, the police serve the interests of the powerful and are allowed to kill and inflict harm on Black people. Supporting transgender children is child abuse in their world. It is dangerous to educate people about U.S. history and sexual health. They want to create a world in which our lives and decisions are predetermined and cut short by extremism or fundamentalism. Their world is authoritarian and theocratic. Therefore, they seek to use the law to control and contain opposition.

Their ruling on Dobbs, the majority right-wing Supreme Court wrote: “Ordered liberty sets limits and defines the boundary between competing interests.” They contrasted the right to bear arms as a more legitimate and fundamental right than access to abortion or health care within their version of “ordered liberty.”

The Right Is Intentionally Undermining the Freedoms We’ve Won Over Time

The Supreme Court’s affirmation of “ordered liberty” as a ruling framework signals that the definitions of freedom that social movements have won are being intentionally eroded and reimagined to usher in a bleak future.

The decision to reverse RoeSentence to legislators, corporations, and hostile organized forces that liberty is about controlling, criminalizing, and destroying hard-won protections, rather than rights, dignity, and self-determination.

As caring, thinking people concerned about the future of the country and the world, we must acknowledge the importance of the decision to repeal a fundamental right to reproductive choice and health care. People who want and need abortions must be supported. Let’s work together across political lines to support health professionals taking the necessary risks and challenging criminalization of those who seek, provide and support abortions. Let us support and honor the decades of reproductive justice work, largely led by Black women.

We can’t afford to overlook the larger picture this decision catalyzes. This precedent is dangerous for legislation, bans or criminalizations of many basic freedoms across multiple front lines. This decision is only one part of a larger strategy to create a world where the powerful can control and contain the rest of the population.
Movement and community-based strategies need to go beyond simply reacting to each issue. We must imagine and build our world.

Part of our responsibility is to see what we can do. Our What the world looks like. Who is protected? How can we provide genuine options and encourage a sense of collective wellbeing, not individual survival? We must create and construct in order to thrive in this world. We must create spaces and places for people to mourn, celebrate and learn. Let’s open doors, not lock them. Our world must be sustained, not strained to the point that it collapses. We must also understand the movements of authoritarian and right-wing forces.

“Ordered Liberty” Signals Growing Violence in the U.S.

Which freedoms are protected? Whose life is protected or criminalized? Who has the right to make decisions about their bodies or futures? Who controls the definitions of freedom, dignity, life and even life? That question was in part answered not just by the sloppy definitions of embryos “quickening” and other nonsense in the Dobbsdecision, but also in a bill that Congress passed into law the same day to increase fundsTo provide protection for the justices, police tear-gassed people protesting in the streets after hearing these decisions.

We are fighting for our lives and must understand the terrain. The opposition has shown itself and we can’t just see one gun pointing at one group at a time. The Supreme Court’s shot is a call for arms. It is a call for coordination across legal frameworks to control, confine, and criminalize many other groups in the field. This decision will have ripples beyond reproductive rights. This shot fired opens up the field for multiple “guns” to train themselves on any person or group that threatens the status quo.

It is intentional to use the gun metaphor, considering that the Supreme Court ruled just 24 hours before the shooting. Dobbs decision that expanded gun right rights. Creating almost unlimited gun rights prepares the ground to privately enforce “ordered liberty” in the form of armed militias and individuals who feel authorized to act on behalf of white supremacist groups. It is important that you remember that the contradictions in who can carry guns and not were created to protect white supremacy, slavery, and social control.

As Carol Anderson and other historians point outThe Second Amendment, which is rooted in racism, was created by Southern white plantation owners to crush rebellions from enslaved persons. It’s not hard to imagine that white supremacist groups are preparing for uprisings and rebellions to come in the next few years. Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal and celebration after he was accused of killing two people during a Wisconsin racial justice rebellion is a clear indication of that.

We witnessed the attempts to protect during the 2022 legislative sessions in the U.S. South. murderers like Rittenhouse as acting in “self-defense,” including Tennessee and Oklahoma. Of course, as we know, protecting the right to self-defense goes only one way — these legislative attempts do not protect a Black woman firing a warning shot to defend against an abuser, like in the case of Marissa Alexander, but somehow find a way to justify murders that white people commit.

The Supreme Court decision to regulate gun carry laws demonstrates an overall strategy to extend certain freedoms and prohibit others, consistently skewing towards “states’ rights” arguments like the Dobbs decision. Using “states’ rights,” like using the term “ordered liberty” is part of this broader signaling to eliminate federal protections and strengthen states’ rights when convenient. Again, calling on “states’ rights” is rooted in the Confederate slaveholding South to protect white supremacy, deny rights, limit freedoms and dismantle infrastructure for social movement.

These maps show where abortion can and will be bannedWhere and when trans lives and rights are being rolled backIt is a Southern map. It is not surprising that many Supreme Court cases originated in the South: Mississippi, which restricts abortion rights; West Virginia.stripping the Environmental Protection Agency); North CarolinaRedistricting and Gerrymandering will be heard in the fall. The Dobbs This decision, along with many others made during the last session, strengthens a Southern strategy for eliminating federal protections. It allows states across the country to design and control voter suppression tactics and criminalization of freedoms, as well as militarization of public places.

When they invoke “ordered liberty” the right-wing Supreme Court justices also signal to a newer term: “rights of conscience.” This term emerged during the Donald Trump era to protect discrimination and support individuals who refuse to provide services or aid, particularly allowing doctors and nurses to refuse to provide abortions, if the decision offends their “conscience.” Trump appointee Roger Severino institutionalized this framework to dismantle basic civil rights in the Department of Health and Human Services with the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom. Legislation to mirror this framework has been passed Arkansas2020 with a conscience rights measure TexasChick-fil A from LGBTQ Boycotts; and similar measures in IllinoisAnd Indiana.

The Supreme Court Dobbs decision states, “Abortion presents a profound moral question.” But the justices are not debating moralities; they use morality as a way to wedge and blur their intentions. They have created legal and structural structures to claim that freedoms to decide your own gender, reproductive path and health care should not be limited or eliminated in order to satisfy religious extremists.

They use “historical precedent” as a justification, but they refer to an outdated Constitution; all white male, pre-14th Amendment courts; and court decisions enforced by the state and aligned with privatized violence. Public intellectual Kimberlé Crenshaw of the African American Policy Forum connects a more relevant historical precedent to this decision in their incredible statement:

The consequence of our society’s failure to see coerced pregnancy as a legacy of enslavement has descended once again upon Black women and all pregnant people with lethal force. Had the project of liberation from enslavement been rooted in this recognition, then coerced childbirth would have been prohibited as a foundational principle of freedom…. Our response to a historical and ongoing problem must not be isolated.

Crenshaw’s statement encourages following the vision of “the second founders”: the people “who fought for freedom and who loosened the grip of enslavement and tyranny,” and we know that many of those movements have been rooted in the South.

These dangers impact every marginalized group in the country. But, there are multiple opportunities for us all to unite across various frontlines and communities to fight against a different world with self -determined protections. The U.S. South has been a region that has experienced decades of repression as a direct result of the strength of our social movement. These are powerful examples from both history and today.

What We Can Do: Create Our World

Project South, an education and organization institute, works with hundreds of organizations on the frontlines to build a Southern Freedom Movement for 21st-century. As organizers, activists, and people who live and work on these frontlines, it is our responsibility to understand the significance of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions and interpret them in a way that can be shared with our families and communities. We are committed to protecting our people and finding ways to avoid unjust laws. We must also create our own world.

The U.S. South has had the opportunity to create worlds that would replace slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow. More than 100 years ago, communities built thousands upon thousands of schools and grew their political power until white supremacist repression thwarted their efforts. Southern communities are now united to rebuild and protect each other during and after climate catastrophes. Abolitionist organizers are working to create worlds that we can only dream of. A world without police, prisons, and state control over our bodies means a world where we have the freedom to make our own decisions about our health, gender, and reproduction. Young people and organizers have been learning about self-managed abortions. They know how to find and obtain abortions without being tracked or monitored by their phones. Organisers are also building networks of health professionals and medical practitioners to continue providing much-needed care despite these attacks.

We need to define what public safety and health mean in the world. We must think of and create public infrastructure that is useful and accessible.

Like the mass shootings at Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York that were not just about guns, so is the situation with the massacre in Uvalde. DobbsAppeals to be overturned Roe It is more than abortion. The root cause of recent mass shootings, and subsequent police responses, is white racist violence. The Buffalo shooter copied entire sections from the Islamophobic manifesto that was written by the 2019 New Zealand shooter. The coordinated attack by white supremacists on a Pride parade held in Idaho was not limited to LGBTQ people. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was where the Aryan Nations headquarters were based in the 1980s. Although the Patriot Front members did NOT have guns, they did have detailed battle plans that were tucked in their khakis about how to use sharpened axes and smoke bombs at a gathering of the public. Through all of these examples — from the judicial to the legislative to the social arenas — we are witnessing a rising, organized and resourced call to racist, Islamophobic and homophobic violence.

The opposition will use the same language, tone, and strategies as us. They will appeal to a notion of caring for mothers and children and protecting people’s safety. They will refer to movement gains such as overturning Plessy v. FergusonTo end discrimination, challenge racism, and expand democratic practices while advancing laws more like the Fugitive Slave Law of1850 that protected slavers in states other than slaveholding states and criminalized escaped slaves.

The opposition is not moving backwards. It is moving forwards to a fascist, white supremacist form of state power with all of the tools of 21st century. We can be angry or hurtful, but we also need to be smart.

Southern organizations are well-prepared and coordinated. We know these battle lines, and we have been resisting attacks and building people’s defense for decades through mutual aid liberation centers, people’s movement assemblies and cross-frontline organizing. Project South is a part of the Southern Movement Assembly, a growing constellation of frontline organizations that practice people’s democracy at the grassroots level with movement assemblies, grow mutual aid centers and build infrastructure that can protect and defend our communities. Southern Movement Assembly supports people this Summer to gather, analyze and create community-based solutions for every front line.

Kenny Bailey, principal at the Design Studio of Social Intervention invites us in “Doing Dishes in a Collapsing Society” to take time to pay attention to all that is happening, to be creative, and to use a full “season to step away from superfluous distractions and step into shared study, community, and society building.… We could model what it looks like to do society work, and what it looks like to stand up for the kind of society we want to be a part of.”

Whatever part of the country we live in, we must analyze the details and broad signals of the current right-wing attacks, and we can learn from people’s movements and the Black radical traditions of the U.S. South to build our visions of freedom and self-determination.

Join the Southern Movement Assembly’s Summer of Assemblies, a season of organizing community gatherings, discussing what we’re up against, and building our own forms of movement and community governance.