The issue is less of the expressions of grievance and more of the way in which those expressions are treated politically. The excess of the left is to say that the simple expression of grievance makes the political treatment a foregone conclusion. But this is to be cashed out as the despotic exercise of political power by fiat. Whereas I am inclined to agree, Freddie, that the purpose of democracy is to “take time” turning the wheels of politics, instead of shortcutting by automatically granting goods, services, rights, whatever to whomever voices a demand for them. Probably it should mean something significant that me and Conor and you and Andrew and plenty of other people with wildly diverging takes on, say, the marriage issue all conclude that the best or proper way to politically treat the grievances expressed is through the actual practice of democratic politics — and at the state level, too, right?
James is, presumably, talking about the complaint that the courts short-circuit the democratic process. This is a classic argument about Roe: not just that it reached the wrong decision (though most arguing this believe that) or that it was poorly argued (ditto), but that it was anti-democratic, because it legalized abortion nationwide without using the democratic process. That's a very popular point of view, even among some who are pro-choice, but it's wrong, and crucially wrong: the use of the courts to resolve disputes is a part of our democratic process
How did we arrive at a system where individuals and groups could challenge the state to have certain rights recognized, or to be enfranchised into preexisting categories of rights? It was created during our constitutional conventions, where the progenitors of the American system determined how our civic governance was going to run. In other words, it is a function of democratic process, and thus the outcome of court proceedings are themselves the products of democratic process. True, the process which created our constitution was of limited democratic value. But if we want to start questioning that process, we might as well tear the whole damn thing down. Meanwhile, we live in a country with a democratically produced system to adjudicate claims for equal rights, which refers to democratically produced state and federal documents which enumerate such rights.
Consider the gay men and women in Massachusetts who sued for the right to marry, based on the claim that they were being denied equal rights enshrined in the state constitution. The complaint immediately rang (often from places nowhere near Massachusetts, natch) that this was an undemocratic change of the law, because the voters or legislature didn't vote on it. Hogwash! The system of grievance-resolution-through-judiciary is a part of our democratic system, and one very few people want to do away with. The Massachusetts state constitution, meanwhile, is a document produced, ratified and amended according to democratic procedures. The decision was the process of a group of judges, sure. The fact that they had the authority to decide this complaint was the product of democracy.
Now let's consider Roe v. Wade. Again, a standard complaint is that the ruling was not the product of democratic process. In this instance too, though, we've got a document in our constitution that was democratically designed, ratified and amended, and the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution has an implied right to privacy which protects the right to an abortion. Now, you can argue that was a terribly decided case, and many have. But it's not "undemocratic". It's the product of a system created by democratic process. We don't have the ability to reformulate every procedure of democracy whenever a controversial issue comes up, so we use the processes we already have, even if they sometimes leave us with decisions we don't like.
Note, also, that's it's not like there's no recourse for those who are opposed to abortion. There's another democratic process that they could attempt to use to get rid of Roe: they could amend the constitution. Yet that's not on the table, and why? Because proponents of such an amendment know that criminalizing abortion isn't possible, politically, in this country, and likely won't be anytime soon. Outlawing abortion just isn't a popular enough position. That means it's like many other policy preferences that don't enjoy enough support to be codified into law. That's democracy. In a more radical vein, you could do away with the court system as a way of refereeing disputes entirely, but there are many reasons why we disconnected the judiciary from direct influence by the people in the first place.
People can and should still argue against decisions they dislike, of course, but I think that saying that court decisions are undemocratic is really just pretense, a way to lend a special sense of illegitimacy to court decisions you don't agree with.