How the Supreme Court Bolstered Project 2025

Red, black and white colors with the U.S. Supreme Court in the middle, a red-toned image of Donald Trump saluting, Kevin Roberts, the president of the Heritage Foundation and 2025 written in big white characters.

Shortly before he reported to prison, Steve Bannon told NBC News that Donald Trump is a “moderate” in the MAGA movement. “The MAGA movement,” he said, “is shifting day-by-day farther right.” Sadly, Bannon, MAGA’s leading populist rabble rouser, is correct.

One of the cornerstones of that rightward shift is the coalition of groups called Project 2025. Anchored by the Heritage Foundation, these groups operate as the ideological center for a new brand of extreme conservative policy that is reminiscent of European nationalism in the 1930s.

Project 2025 advances an extreme MAGA agenda that is fiercely isolationist, xenophobic and disdainful of democratic norms. It demonizes intellectuals, dismisses experts and idolizes charismatic strongmen. One of its leaders recently said that “we are in the process of the second American Revolution, which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be.”

Project 2025 seeks to establish a unitary executive branch — where the president reigns supreme. The project claims that presidents can pick and choose which laws they want to enforce and can impose their will over every decision in every agency — from environmental regulation to who should be criminally investigated and prosecuted. Most importantly, presidents can replace career employees with hand-picked cronies and can punish political enemies with impunity.

SIGN UP

Project 2025 is supported by the same right-wing groups bringing dozens of anti-democracy lawsuits that will impact the outcome of this year’s election.

Democracy Docket is the only news outlet tracking and reporting on these cases — sign up for our free daily and weekly newsletters to get the latest updates sent straight to your inbox.

America has faced and defeated neo fascist movements before.

Over the last century, our constitutional system of checks and balances has emphasized liberalism over authoritarianism. We now accept that presidents cannot enact or repeal laws, but must ensure that they are “faithfully executed.” Until Trump, they were constrained by laws and the expectations of the office.

In recent decades, we have seen the decline of political patronage and the rise of government on the merits. While top policy positions are filled with political supporters, most federal government workers are civil servants; protected from partisan retribution.

Over time these developments have created a stable political environment that benefits all of society — from big businesses to small towns. It has led to an increased standard of living for the poorest citizens, while also rewarding the successes of the wealthiest. America has become an international superpower and a leader in spreading democracy abroad.

Central to our country’s success has been a stable legal system based on constitutional principles and the rule of law. Yet, as with other institutions, recent decisions by the Supreme Court are undermining that success. Instead, the Court has recently become a witting or unwitting facilitator of Project 2025’s dystopian agenda for the future.

Project 2025 is premised on contempt for constitutional norms and the rule of law. It seeks to reshape American government, law and society for a generation.

For example, last week the Supreme Court overruled a 40-year precedent requiring courts to defer to agency interpretations of the laws they administer. At the heart of the prior doctrine was a belief that agencies staffed with experts and receiving public input are better suited than judges to make complex judgments on how best to implement ambiguous laws.

In 1984, when a unanimous Supreme Court adopted a policy of deference, it wrote that “federal judges — who have no constituency — have a duty to respect legitimate policy choices made by those who do.” Last week, an ideologically divided Court reversed course saying that it was courts that have a “special competence in resolving statutory ambiguities.”

Setting aside its unilateral abrogation of power, the Court’s decision helps achieve a central goal of Project 2025 — the so-called “dismantling the administrative state.” By removing deference to agencies, the Court tacitly endorses the view that the accumulated expertise within government helps is a problem rather than a solution that achieves better outcomes for its citizens.

In addition to reordering the relationship between the co-equal branches, for it to succeed, Project 2025 must change the mindset of those who work in and around government. For strongmen to rule — rather than serve — they must have a free hand to defy common understandings of the limits of their power. They must also inspire others to follow them in recklessly abandoning the rule of law.

In two of its final decisions of the term, the Court provided Project 2025 adherents’ victories that will enable a future president and their administration to be more ruthless and less concerned with breaking the law.

First, it narrowed the application of a federal criminal law that had been used to prosecute some Jan. 6 insurrectionists. At issue in the case was an arcane question of statutory interpretation — whether a statute that criminalizes obstructing official proceedings requires that the conduct relate to the destruction of documents or records. A divided Court said that it did.

The decision is a rhetorical and moral victory for MAGA extremists. Trump has already cited it as proof that the Jan. 6 insurrectionists were unfairly treated by the criminal justice system. For right-wing conspiracists, it is confirmation that the “deep state” is against them, that the government has been “weaponized” and that retribution is the appropriate response if Trump regains power.

Even worse, on the final day of the term, the Supreme Court granted Trump near absolute immunity for official acts while he was in office. As bad as this ruling is for the cases against him for his past crimes, it is a five alarm fire for democracy if he regains office. Shielded from liability, if Trump regains the White House he will abuse the power of the most powerful office on earth with virtual impunity.

Project 2025 is premised on contempt for constitutional norms and the rule of law. It seeks to reshape American government, law and society for a generation. To achieve that, it must rely on extraordinary actions and a willingness to defy the law. 

After this term, Trump and his followers undoubtedly view the Court as a force multiplier in their authoritarian quest, rather than an obstacle. Long after this election is over, that may well be the legacy this Supreme Court leaves behind.