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Interview: District 1 congressional hopeful Max Steiner on Roe v. Wade

Photo courtesy of Max Steiner.
Photo courtesy of Max Steiner.

Max Steiner, the Democratic candidate for California’s 1st Congressional District, which encompasses multiple North State counties, says the U.S. Supreme Court should not be paid “empty respect that it does not deserve.”

Steiner’s comments came after the court’s decision June 24 overturning Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed the right to an abortion for nearly five decades.

“It will take many years and probably a comprehensive change in personnel — just as judges retire and new ones are appointed — to restore the faith that Americans had in the Supreme Court 20 years ago,” said Steiner, who supports restoring Roe v. Wade by federal legislation.

Steiner, a Chico resident who served four years of active duty in the Army and two years in Iraq, bills himself as a “moderate” Democrat and is challenging Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa in the November general election. NSPR interviewed Steiner June 27, covering his candidacy, reproductive rights and the institution of the Supreme Court.

LaMalfa’s staff did not respond to an interview request on the Supreme Court’s ruling.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On Steiner’s political history

I was a no party preference until 2020. I actually registered Democrat on Jan. 6, 2021, because I looked at the riot on the Capitol and the Republican response and I was really disgusted. That’s why I’m running for office. I look at the modern Republican Party, and I see a party that has abandoned the precepts of democracy. That has decided that what it can’t win at the ballot box, it will take by force or trickery or just lies.

My opponent, Doug LaMalfa, helped spread Trump’s election lies where he claimed to win an election that he did not. And that is something that’s very corrosive to a democracy. I saw that in Iraq. I saw a democracy collapse there because every political party in Iraq wanted to have power. And if it didn’t win at the ballot box, they would try to win it in the streets. And I just do not want that to happen here.

On the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade

The decision itself is a disaster. It’s a disaster for the court because it makes it clear that we now have a very politicized court. A court that is going to try to implement Republican policy objectives through the judicial system, and that is an activist court. It is something I opposed when the right wing was claiming that the left wing was doing it — even though we’ve had a Republican majority Supreme Court now for 40 years? Since Reagan. And now they have a 6-3, and now they’re ramming through very extreme policy.

So, No. 1, disaster for the court. And No. 2 — and obviously more important — it’s a disaster for the American people. Half of Americans are now at risk of losing their abortion rights, depending on where they live. So, we’re safe here in California, but many women woke up Friday morning to a world that had changed. This is not how America is supposed to work. We have never had a Supreme Court roll back rights like this on a massive scale. Such a massive overturning of precedent and a rolling back of individual liberties is not how I want my government to function.

On further risk to constitutional rights

This comes out of a concurring opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas. He explicitly said that all due process rights, including Griswold, which established a right to privacy and through that a right to contraception, and Obergefell, which established the right to gay marriage. Basically, a lot of these individual liberties, he said we should re-examine them.

He’s obviously telling every Republican state attorney general that wants to get on Fox News — and get 30 seconds of fame — to file a lawsuit. To pass a law, and then to challenge that law. He’s telling Republican states that if you want to try to outlaw gay marriage, for example, now is your time. Bring it to the court, and we will hear it.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh kind of telegraphed that he would be opposed to that. So, I don't want to make everyone freak out and say, oh, you know, we're going to lose our right to contraception. The more worrisome factor is that we have a Supreme Court that feels like it can start overturning these rights, that clearly has no respect for stare decisis — no respect for precedent — and that we have a Supreme Court that seems very set on implementing Republican policies.

On whether the electorate should still have respect for the institution of the Supreme Court

No. I don't, and I don't think many people should. I think the Supreme Court has shown itself to be a very partisan branch of the government. I don't support getting rid of it, but I don't think we should pay it empty respect it does not deserve. It will take many years and probably a comprehensive change in personnel — just as judges retire and new ones are appointed — to restore the faith that Americans had in the Supreme Court 20 years ago.

On priorities on reproductive rights if elected

We need to legislate Roe v. Wade into law. That is something that we had 49 years of precedent. I think there's broad acceptance in the American public about that, and I think it's politically achievable. So, No.1, you can make it happen.

One of the big problems that I have with politicians on both sides of the aisle is that they tell their supporters what they want to hear and not what is politically reasonable. So, we can accomplish Roe v. Wade, and therefore it's a good target. Because that's No. 2., it is a good target. It was a good balance. I am a pro-choice Catholic. I have reservations about, especially, many third-trimester abortions. I think Roe v. Wade was a good enough precedent.

Policy is about balancing interests. It's about the creation and implementation of balance. And what we have in America today — and what we had in the Supreme Court Friday — was just policy by extreme fiat. So, we had one side of the aisle saying, this is the policy I want. This is the policy I'm going to implement against you, and I don't need you to talk to me about it. I don't need your concurrence. I have the power of the Supreme Court, and I'm going to make this the law of the land.

A graduate of California State University, Chico, Andre Byik is an award-winning journalist who has reported in Northern California since 2012. He joined North State Public Radio in 2020, following roles at the Chico Enterprise-Record and Chico News & Review.