SUPREME COURT2

Several decisions expected from the Supreme Court in 2016 could potentially impact Blacks in critical ways, including destroying gains made during the civil rights movement.

While the nation focuses on the upcoming presidential election, organizations and think tanks around the country, including the Center for American Progress, have shifted their focus to examine how an aging and seemingly racially-insensitive Supreme Court body could adversely impact Black communities.  Noting the large number of high-stakes Supreme Court cases, scholars and policymakers are concerned the Court may be shifting to redefine “equal justice under law” and how it is achieved and enforced.

During the “What’s At Stake in This Supreme Court Term” panel discussion, Debo Adegbile, partner with the law firm WilmerHale; Walter Dellinger, former solicitor general and partner, O’Melveny & Myers; Cynthia Estlund, professor, New York University School of Law; Priscilla J. Smith, associate research scholar in Law at Yale; and Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress discussed their concerns. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus moderated.

“The premise about the last term is somewhat questionable in that it was seen as a balanced term because it did some progressive things and it did some conservative things, but it actually did nothing that opposed the interests of the Fortune 500,” Dellinger said.  “I think it is a very conservative, activist Court and that it is one vote away from invalidating any plan that involves redistribution under a variety of institutional doctrines.”

Dellinger cited the Courts questioning of whether the Affordable Car Act took money from young, healthy individuals to provide for older, sicker people, completely negating the similarities between that platform and social security.  In the history of the nation, Dellinger said, there has never been this level of second-guessing of Congress or the court being utilized to examine small defects in otherwise strident local laws in order to bring down decades’ old, previously decided-upon, rulings.

“The debate on the Supreme Court is an interesting one, but it seems it is no coincidence to me that we are talking about cases that would undermine women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, voting rights, public sector unions – the building blocks and foundation of the progressive movement,” said Tanden.  “Conservatives are undermining each one of these elements and this is what is at stake with each of these moments and the Court has the potential to place itself at the heart of the political debate.”

Michele L. Jawando, vice president, Legal Progress, told the AFRO at the talk that many of the Court’s decisions, while not racist on the surface, will ultimately impact how Blacks fair in 2016 and beyond.

“If Court decisions are completely devoid of understanding and do not take into account the real world impact they create, they can, in fact, be interpreted as racist,” she said.  “While the Court may be attempting to show that it is being even-handed with regard to equality and inclusion, they are increasingly making rulings that place African Americans in positions where there is a certain level of invisibility and victimization created by those decisions.”

ssherman@afro.com