Updated: Jul 15
The Supreme Court of the United States is quickly changing the culture and rule of law for future generations. Historically, justices have been nominated and approved to honor and interpret the Constitution to make fair decisions that impact American society. Given their lifetime appointments, justices affect American life more than Congress or the Executive Branch, led by the president. As we all know, the decisions made by Supreme Court justices set precedent; the court has made historical decisions that have changed the direction of the nation.
Some of the more influential Supreme Court cases were decided this year. Democracy prevailed in two decisions. In Allen v. Milligan, five justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, agreed that Alabama’s gerrymandered congressional maps must be redrawn. And in Moore v. Harper, which originated in North Carolina, the court rejected the “theory” that the Constitution gives legislatures power over federal elections with no checks and balances from state constitutions, courts, governors, or voters.
But the Court also repealed Roe vs. Wade, the law of the land for the past fifty years. The justices took away a woman’s right to decide the fate of her pregnancy and delegated states the power to determine abortion laws, to the detriment of women.
Also, the Court overturned affirmative action for college admissions, causing deep concern in communities of color, especially the African-American community. Many have benefited from affirmative action, and may not have been accepted into colleges such as Harvard and the University of North Carolina without the decision. But this court found affirmative action in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas attended Yale Law School, but voted against affirmative action. He had previously told employees at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: “God only knows where I would be today,” if not for the legal principles of equal employment opportunity measures such as affirmative action that are “critical to minorities and women in this society.”
My, my how things have changed from Justice Thomas’s decades-old quote to the present, when he voted to eliminate and close the door on affirmative action for many students of color. All is not lost because historically Black colleges and universities stand to benefit from students who are seeking a college education.
Justice Thomas stated: “Our Constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” Unfortunately, we do not live in a colorblind society in America. Race and skin color still matter, given the United States’ history of slavery that has strongly influenced the generational wealth, or non-wealth, for white and Black families.
When Supreme Court Justices are nominated and affirmed based on their ideological and political affiliations, all Americans lose. The conservative appointments by then-President Donald Trump illustrate the point. Supreme Court justices serve for life. Recent appointments of youthful justices, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett mean that all could serve for the next 40 years.
The conservative justices have demonstrated their commitment to a conservative ideology that will shape life for Americans for years to come. As President Obama once said, “elections have consequences.” Senator Mitch McConnell, a Republican, understood this when he blocked Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, District Court Judge Merrick Garland, with an unprecedented act denying Judge Garland a Senate hearing. McConnell subverted the will of the people, who elected Obama, to prevent the appointment of a Supreme Court justice he did not consider to be ideololigically aligned with his own party. It matters who nominates the Supreme Court justices in the United States. The Justices will rule our lives for generations.
The decision on race-based criteria for college admission affects people of color, and benefits white college students in legacy admissions, according to an Associated Press survey of the nation’s most selective colleges. The survey found that legacy students in the freshman class ranged from 4% to 23%. At four schools — Notre Dame, USC, Cornell and Dartmouth — legacy students outnumbered Black students. "Legacy preferences have become an easy target in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that hinged on questions of merit in the college application process. Instead of getting in on their own merit, legacy students are standing on their parents’ shoulders." said Julie Park. Park studies college admissions and racial equity at the University of Maryland.
“Let’s be clear: affirmative action still exists for white people. It’s called legacy admissions,” Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, said on Twitter.
If a case challenging legacy admission makes its way to the Supreme Court, will the court decide to maintain this form of affirmative action for primarily white students?
In North Carolina, Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill have taken action in response to the U.S. Supreme Court Affirmative Action decision. Both schools will target students based on income criteria. However, there is pushback from some at UNC Chapel Hill and further discussion on the financial admissions policy. This is a proactive approach to providing an opportunity for students from lower income families a chance to change the direction of their life and that of their family. This strategy is not race based and does not award students of families that attended a particular school. Access to a quality education is a game changer for many college students. A college education is valued and impacts who gets ahead in our society.
If we citizens of the United States want a nation that is less polarized, based on fairness and equity, we need to vote for representatives who place the good of the nation first, regardless of political affiliation or loyalty to a political party.
We should elect presidents who will nominate and senators who will affirm Supreme Court justices who make decisions that, instead of reflecting political ideology, provide equal justice under the Constitution.
Virgil L. Smith formerly served as president and publisher of the Asheville Citizen-Times and Vice President for Human Resources for the Gannett Company. He is the principal for the Smith Edwards Group and the author of "The Keys to Effective Leadership.” He is the founder and a writer for Carolina Commentary.