Last Year’s Supreme Court Term Was a Mockery of Justice. Here’s What’s at Stake in the Next Term.

| Sep 26, 2023

Next month, the Supreme Court begins its 2023-2024 term, during which it will hear several cases that call into question racial and gender equality, economic justice and basic ideals of fairness. These ideals were eroded on nearly every front during the Court’s 2022-2023 term; in the months after that term ended, legal news has been filled with stories showing the far-reaching harm of the Court’s most recent rulings, alongside the shameless corruption and partisan dealing being carried out by the Court’s extreme right-wing majority. Here’s a glimpse of what’s ahead in the upcoming Supreme Court term and a recap of the highlights (and lowlights) of last year’s term.

The Term Ahead

Several of the cases already confirmed for this term have deep ramifications for economic justice, racial and gender equality and the fundamentals of democracy. In Alexander v. South Carolina Conference of the NAACP, the Court will hear a challenge to the South Carolina Legislature’s gerrymandering scheme that deliberately diluted the power of Black voters in the state. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) v. Community Financial Services Association of America will see the payday lending industry attempt to invalidate the existence of the CFPB, the federal agency dedicated to protecting consumers from predatory lenders, banks and other financial institutions. And in Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, the Court will decide whether employers are allowed to engage in sex discrimination by involuntarily transfering an employee.

One case that should not fly under the radar is Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo. At first glance the case may not appear broadly significant, involving a challenge to an obscure rule about fishery management. But the true aim of the challenge is to dramatically undermine the ability of federal agencies to issue regulations implementing federal law. The case has massive ramifications for the government’s ability to issue labor and civil rights protections, safety standards, corporate profiteering and environmental protections – among countless other areas of law.

Other cases to watch include cases involving the level of protection afforded to employees who blow the whistle on financial fraud; the ability of advocates to challenge violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act; and the federal ban on firearms by individuals who are under a domestic violence restraining order.

In addition, the Court is still deciding whether to hear several cases that have explosive implications for women’s rights, democracy and justice. The issues at stake include:

  • Efforts to block or restrict the availability of the safe, effective medication abortion drug mifepristone;
  • Whether an antiabortion group may evade liability for their conspiracy to spy on health care providers and their staff and release maliciously edited footage without their consent;
  • Whether the state of Alabama can move forward with a redistricting plan that would contain only a single majority-Black congressional district;
  • Whether social media platforms should be allowed to remove hate speech, violent videos, disinformation and other harmful content from their platforms; and
  • Whether participants in the January 6 U.S. Capital attack can be charged with obstruction of justice – with possible implications for the federal indictment of former President Trump.

The Shockwaves from Last Term

Racial equality. In Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard and SFFA v. University of North Carolina (UNC), the Court barred Harvard and UNC from considering race as one of many factors in college admissions. In doing so, they reversed decades of precedent upholding universities’ compelling interest in promoting a diverse student body to improve the quality of education and student life.

Although the case was limited to these specific higher education programs, the decision’s language was deliberately vague and overbroad in a way that emboldened attacks on racial equity in all aspects of public life. Anti-equality extremists have already set their sights on eroding:

LGBTQ+ rights. The Court’s decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis ruled in favor of a business owner who wished to discriminate against LGBTQ+ couples by refusing to create wedding websites for them. Despite the fact that the business owner had never been asked to create a website for a same-sex couple, the Court ruled to allow private, non-religious businesses to exempt themselves from anti-discrimination laws by claiming that not being allowed to discriminate violated their free speech rights.

This is part of a longstanding, ongoing effort to establish certain religious groups as the dominant force shaping American society. (These same “defenders of religious liberty” are mysteriously silent when it comes to religious groups and people of faith who believe in LGBTQ+ rights and access to abortion as essential tenets of their faith.) And as Justice Sotomayor and other experts have noted, this opens the door for businesses to discriminate against interracial or interfaith families, disabled people, unmarried mothers and more.

Student loan relief. In Biden v. Nebraska, the Court struck down the Biden administration’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt for as many as 43 million people. This decision is especially devastating for women overall, who are 28 percent more likely to have student debt, but especially for Black women, who are the most likely to hold student debt and to owe higher amounts than other borrowers. When combined with the persistent wage gap that deprives Black women of the income needed to pay off that debt, this decision will only worsen the cycle of economic precarity. And the efforts to keep people in debt have not stopped, with legal challenges filed against the administration’s efforts to provide relief to borrowers and protect people who are defrauded by their colleges.

These Supreme Court terms come on the heels of the unconscionable and devastating 2022 decision to overturn the right to abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. The hard-right majority is barely trying to conceal their corrupt and anti-democratic agenda to roll back the country’s hard-won progress towards equality. For people who care deeply about the wellbeing of women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals and other marginalized communities, watching the Court over the past year has been sombering. It can be tempting to succumb to pessimism and assume nothing can be done. But it is critical to remember the many ways in which proponents of justice can and are fighting back.

  • Voters in Kansas and Ohio won decisive victories against ballot initiatives aimed at eliminating and undermining abortion rights.
  • Students across the country are staging walkouts in protest of bills targeting trans students and other LGBTQ+ individuals, and five states have passed bills to protect medical care for trans youth.
  • The Biden administration continues to pursue policies to help people with student loan debt, invest in historically underserved entrepreneurs, improve wage standards for construction workers and protect pregnant workers.
  • The Biden administration also has a vital role to play in reminding businesses of their obligations under civil rights laws and urging them to continue their DEI efforts, which are critical preventive measures against civil rights violations.
  • Groups like Open to All, a business group dedicated to equality and inclusion, remain committed to protecting vulnerable communities – and businesses of all sizes can and should follow suit.

The National Partnership for Women & Families has joined with other organizations to condemn the current majority’s extremism, call for the Supreme Court to be subject to the same ethical standards as all other federal judges, and urge Congress to carry out its oversight responsibilities over the Court. With everything that’s at stake, we’ve also called on voters who care about equality and justice to make their voices heard at the ballot box. The National Partnership is committed to staying in the fight, alongside the communities most affected by these decisions – and we will win.