The Roberts court is striking at the heart of democracy

Voters emerge from polling booths setup at the Chichester Town Hall, New Hampshire, in February 2020.

Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She is the founder of Evergreen Consulting. Follow her at @jrpsaki. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. Read more opinion articles at CNN.

(CNN)Joe Biden's recent rise in national polls has led some Democrats -- myself included -- to fear that complacency will set in, and voters won't take the threat of President Donald Trump's reelection seriously.

But there is something else that should be generating a great level of concern -- the effort by Republicans to use the Supreme Court to suppress voting across the country in an attempt to hold onto the White House and Senate.
Jen Psaki
Let's start with Florida. Recent polls have made clear that Florida is in play this November, thanks, in part, to Trump's mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and a surge of support for Biden among seniors.
    But, last week, the Supreme Court issued an order that will likely help Florida Republicans continue to suppress certain citizens' ability to vote. According to the Court's decision, Florida can block ex-felons from voting if they have outstanding court fines or cannot pay all the costs associated with their convictions.
    It should not have been this way.
    In 2018, Florida voters approved an amendment restoring voting rights to most ex-felons who had completed their sentences, including probation and parole. Since then, Florida Republicans have tried to circumvent the amendment, passing a law clarifying the "terms of sentence" that formerly incarcerated people must complete -- full pay back of fines, fees and restitution --amounting to a modern-day poll tax before they are allowed to vote.
    A federal District Court judge had tried to stop the rule, saying that the state "cannot condition voting on payments of amounts a person is unable to pay." But just months from the election, Republicans in the state were thrown a lifeline by the conservative Supreme Court, letting the Florida state law go into effect.
    As Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted in her dissent, the order will prevent thousands of Floridians from participating in democracy "simply because they are poor."
    Unfortunately, this isn't the first anti-voting rights decision the Supreme Court has handed down this year. As the pandemic upends lives across the country, the Court has repeatedly sided with state Republicans trying to make it harder for people to safely vote.
    In Wisconsin, a state that could secure a victory for Trump or Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden, Republican justices voted as a bloc to not extend the absentee ballot deadlines, after requests for the specialty ballots exploded.
    The vote forced thousands of Wisconsinites to choose between going out in-person in the middle of a pandemic and forfeiting their right to vote in the primary. The four Democratic-appointed justices all dissented. Justice Ginsburg wrote at the time that the decision "boggles the mind."
    In Alabama, a state that could play a role in determining control of the Senate as Democrat Doug Jones fights for his political life, the five Republican justices overruled their Democratic-appointed colleagues, again, to make it harder for people to vote absentee in the middle of the pandemic.
    And, in Texas, a state where Biden is within the margin of error of Trump in a number of polls, the Court denied a request from Democrats to try to expand vote-by-mail to help people safely vote.
    Despite the feelings of warmth many Democrats have felt toward Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court in recent weeks -- in light of decisions on abortion, LGBTQ employment rights and immigration -- one of the areas where the court's five Republican justices have been remarkably consistent and cruel is in decisions that suppress voters' rights. And these are just the latest round of anti-democratic decisions from the Roberts Court.
    In Shelby County v. Holder, in 2013, the court gutted the federal government's ability to enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, setting the table for states, particularly in the south, to suppress votes by instituting voter ID laws and closing polling locations.
    We've already seen the impact of this decision. In the last several years, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, county election officials have closed 214 polling locations across Georgia, shutting down nearly 8% of the states' polling locations -- many in predominately African American neighborhoods. And Georgia is but one example.
    In 2019, the five Republican justices ruled to stop courts from doing anything to prevent partisan gerrymandering, giving Republicans -- and even Democrats, if they want to -- the green light to draw the lines in a way that subverts any meaningful sense of democracy.
    Right now, the country is careening toward an election that presents unprecedented challenges -- a deadly global pandemic that makes it risky for many people to stand in long lines, potential foreign interference and a president intent on undermining the legitimacy of valid options like vote by mail. If history is any guide, Republicans will seize on any of those circumstances to cling to power.
    Meanwhile, Trump and McConnell have spent the last four years making a down payment on a long-term voter suppression strategy by filling our courts with right-wing ideologues who can be counted on to uphold attempts to block people from voting safely. So, whatever voter suppression strategies Republicans manage to come up with will come before judges already primed to green light them.
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    I hear a lot of Democrats worrying about what Trump will do to cling to power. I get it. Back in 2016, our chief concern was that he wouldn't accept the outcome of an election we fully expected Hillary Clinton to win. And we should expect Trump to continue laying the groundwork for questioning the outcome of the election, as he did this past weekend during an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News, in which he said, "I think mail-in voting is going to rig the election."
      But tactics from the Court won't be overt. Roberts won't be tweeting out wild conspiracy theories about vote by mail, but that doesn't mean his views on the right way to sustain our democracy are any less dangerous. It will require vigilance, education and advocacy to ensure everyone knows their rights leading up to November.
      As Election Day draws closer, Americans should keep an eye on what's happening at the Court -- and vote to make sure Trump doesn't get a second four years to add any more justices to it.