This week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) demonstrated its true nature as an undemocratic institution that was built to be a counterweight to real democracy. Composed of nine unelected judges with lifetime appointments, SCOTUS has taken up an aggressive agenda against the democratic rights of workers and the oppressed, proving it is an illegitimate arbiter of “justice.” This week’s rulings are a vivid expression of that attack, and why the Supreme Court must be abolished.
A Death Blow to a Historic Victory from the Civil Rights Movement
In a huge blow to communities of color, specifically Black and Latinx people, SCOTUS has struck down affirmative action programs in higher education, which were a set of anti-discrimination and desegregation policies won by the civil rights movement. With two decisions, a 6-3 ruling in the University of North Carolina case and 6-2 ruling in the Harvard case, the court ended affirmative action in higher education. Affirmative action programs specifically gave weight to the race, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, geographical location, and background of students applying to college in an effort to “level the playing field” and allow students the chance to attend colleges and universities, especially prestigious ones, even though they often did not meet the normal “standards” of admissions set by these colleges and universities.
So, affirmative action programs are not programs simply aimed at combating the past affects slavery and Jim Crow, but they also combat the current biases and inequality that continue to get reproduced under capitalism. These biases are even reflected in the “standards” that colleges and universities use to select their students, such as GPAs and test scores.
Without affirmative action, Black and Brown students are less able to access elite educational institutions and graduate programs. For example, in California, when the ban on affirmative action was implemented, a cap on GPA was lifted in the University of California system. This gave affluent white students even more of an edge against Black and Brown students because the only way to achieve a GPA higher than a 4.0 was by taking AP courses in high school, and many Black and Brown students attend segregated and underfunded schools that do not offer AP courses. Furthermore, standardized tests have long been proven to be biased against Black and Brown students, at best reflecting the inequality between K-12 schools in majority white communities and majority Black and Brown communities.
Striking down affirmative action in college admissions actually legalizes discrimination. This is especially true since it leaves intact legacy programs that many colleges and universities have given preference to students whose parents are alumni or donors. Black and Brown students are unlikely to be legacy students to elite institutions whose student body was almost entirely white for most of its history. Therefore, this ruling acts on and resurrects vestiges of the legacy of Jim Crow.
These decisions threaten affirmative action policies for public and private employers and contractors as well, bringing yet another threat to the economic gains Black and Brown communities have secured since the civil rights movement.
Affirmative action was always a modest but important gain, and it has been under attack since its inception. It has been steadily chipped away at and weakened, which is why it has not provided more opportunities for students of color in higher education. To achieve more substantive results, not only do we need quotas guaranteeing proportional representation, but open enrollment and free tuition guaranteeing the right to college for all.
A Blow to Student Debt Relief Leaving Millions in Financial Ruin
The Supreme Court also ruled against the Biden administration’s modest student debt relief program that would have canceled up to $20,000 in debt for those who had federal student loans or received a Pell Grant, and made less than $125,000. The ruling said that the Biden administration could not use the 2003 Heroes Act, with Chief Justice Roberts saying that “before a department secretary… [can] alter large sections of the American economy” they must be granted specific approval from Congress to do it. It should be noted how explicitly — and swiftly — Congress acted when bailing out the banks in 2008 after they ruined the global economy in their greedy pursuit of profits. SCOTUS would have never ruled against that bailout.
The 6-3 ruling shows the Supreme Court’s commitment to protect the profits of the capitalists who were unwilling to absorb the cost of canceling student debt, which in the case of the Biden administration’s program would have cost $400 billion.
With inflation devaluing the salaries of the working class, this ruling will hit the large swath of college educated, low-income workers hard. The Debt Collective has posted some of their stories — people will have to skip meals in order to pay off their debt, they will put off having children, and they will put off retiring to pay back massive debts.
In truth, Biden’s debt forgiveness program would not have “altered” the economy enough. College should be free for all, like K-12 public schools.
A Deep Blow to the Legal Rights of the LGBTQ+ Community
Under the guise of protecting the constitutional right to free speech to individuals and businesses, SCOTUS ruled that certain businesses can actually refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings. Their 6-3 ruling allows businesses to exempt themselves from anti-discrimination laws on the basis of their religious or ideological beliefs. Even the dissenting Supreme Court judges called the ruling a “license to discriminate.” As a result of this ruling, businesses could bar queer people from entry or from services. And this may not stop at queer people: this opens the door to license discrimination against any and all oppressed sectors of society.
What is profoundly dangerous and reactionary about this decision is the fact that it happened alongside a major backlash led by the far-right wing of the Republican Party against LGBTQ+ rights in general, and trans rights in particular. In fact, the Republican Party is seeking to use their offensive against trans rights as an electoral tool to mobilize their base and even win over more centrist Democratic voters.
SCOTUS Cannot Be Reformed — It Must Be Abolished
These reactionary rulings follow previous ones that set the stage for this current political conjuncture. The launch pad for this judicial reaction is the Dobbs decision that effectively gutted Roe v. Wade and the national right to bodily autonomy for millions of women, trans men, and people with uteruses. That widely unpopular decision revealed to millions how undemocratic SCOTUS is, and the role it seeks to play in imposing on society what it thinks the rights of workers and the oppressed should be.
Another important SCOTUS ruling cementing its reactionary attack on workers was the decision in early June limiting the legal protection of striking workers if those actions did not take “reasonable precautions to protect their employer’s property from foreseeable, aggravated, and imminent danger due to the sudden cessation of work.”
Far from being a neutral institution that brings into check the other branches of government, SCOTUS is a political institution with its own reactionary agenda — to defend the rights and rule of the capitalists and their efforts to deepen their exploitation and oppression of workers and communities of color. Most recently, the completely corrupt character of this body has been made explicit — with Clarence Thomas taking expensive trips with right wing lobbyists, Samuel Alito taking expensive trips with a billionaire whose case he later heard, and Alito’s wife leasing land to an energy company while Alito decided to roll back environmental protections.
The reactionary role of SCOTUS is not new. If the Court has granted rights, it was only when class struggle forced it to. It was the early organizing of the civil rights movement that won Brown v. Board, and it was the feminist movement and its courageous stand challenging the legal ban on abortion that won Roe v. Wade. Class struggle and the need to maintain legitimacy is what has brought the most progressive SCOTUS decisions. However, we must remember that what SCOTUS gives, it can also take away. This is why we cannot rely on “reforming” SCOTUS by voting for Democrats who can appoint progressive judges.
How We Fight the Right-Wing Attacks of Democratic Rights
What is needed is a movement of workers and the oppressed fighting in their places of work, schools, and communities and using the methods of the working class — like strikes and mass mobilizations — to directly challenge the legitimacy and power of SCOTUS and the other undemocratic institutions of the capitalist state. While the Democrats will tell us that the way forward is in voting them into office, it is clear that this is a losing strategy. After all, Biden is currently President. Abortion rights were overturned while the Democrats held a majority in Congress and the Executive Branch. It is only our mobilization and self organization that will fight back these attacks.
Not only should the working class and oppressed raise the need for affirmative action, but we need to open admissions and ensure free college for everyone! We need the total elimination of student loans, both federal and private! We need the total recognition of rights for LBGTQ+ people, including the right to gender-affirming care and access to all services straight couples can get! We need the right to free, safe, legal abortion on demand to be a federal right! We also need the right for workers to fight for better working conditions and pay to be legally recognized and protected!
One of the best ways the working class and oppressed can organize themselves and fight unequivocally for the demands they need, without having to capitulate to the electoral goals and pressures of the Democratic Party, is to create a party of its own dedicated to promoting class struggle. Instead of having a strategy that directs all the energy of the working class and oppressed to the polls, a working-class party would direct all of its energy — including its electoral campaigns — to the class struggle, since it knows that power can only be achieved by the collective action of the working class and oppressed fighting for direct control of the resources their labor creates.