To say that the Supreme Court has recently played a monumental role in forcing the country backward would be a profound understatement. The court’s super majority of conservative judges has already passed down rulings about abortion, the 2nd Amendment, religion, voting rights, and more that have set back the country decades and put us on a path to a vastly more conservative future. The impacts of these radical, monumental rulings will reverberate for generations.
Their resolve to act with breathtaking speed to undo legal protections underpinning the fundamental rights that we have enjoyed for decades has surprised legal scholars who have viewed the Supreme Court within the context of its historical role as a ballast against too quick change, a check on the overreach of state legislatures driven by shifting political agendas.
We can argue (rightly) about whether the Supreme Court has ever actually served this critical democratic function for those most vulnerable in our society. BIPOC individuals, among many other groups, have often in our history turned to the Supreme Court when our rights have been violated and found no relief there.
But it is hard to argue that there is not a very real shift occurring in our democracy. The historic overturning of 50 years of legal precedent resulting in the denial of women’s reproductive freedoms and bodily autonomy, to take one recent example, cannot and should not be taken lightly.
It is clear that the Supreme Court’s actions are nakedly political. Their commitment to enacting as much of the conservative agenda as they can and their brazen lack of concern for the damage it will inflict on millions of Americans are clear. And the Supreme Court itself has signaled that they are far from done.
In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court should reexamine other substantive due process precedents, including those that support the right to contraception, same-sex relationships, and same-sex marriage.
Not surprisingly, many Americans find this turn towards the removal of long-established rights incredibly concerning. A recent survey by the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist found that 56% of Americans are concerned about the court revisiting and potentially overturning these rights.
This Moment May Seem Grim. But We’ve Been Here Before.
It is clear that the court plans to remake the legal landscape of our country to fit the conservative vision of America that leaves the most vulnerable groups at the mercy of gerrymandered state legislatures that enact laws that strip people of their rights without any legal recourse. It is a grim state we find ourselves in. Many Democrats and progressives are finding themselves in the position of feeling politically powerless, alienated from the political process, and hopeless in the face of entrenched obstacles and barriers we face.
But BIPOC individuals have always been isolated from the larger political process. There has never been a time that Black folks could engage in this process equitably. We have never had the political power to constitute a majority or even inflict minority rule, as conservatives are successfully doing now.
But our lack of access to the democratic process has been an essential part of the design of America. And of course, these systems are not just designed to exclude Black communities. They have also been intentionally designed to block women, LGBTQ+ individuals, immigrants and a host of others from accessing their full constitutional rights. It’s not a surprise to find in 2022 that a system designed to serve the interest of heterosexual, white men continues to do so.
In many ways, though, these decisions do feel like a return to the past, in a way that conservatives find desirable and progressives find appalling and disheartening.
Americans love the narrative of our country as always progressing, always moving forward. Doing better than we have in the past. Expanding rights and empowering more people to be part of the democratic process and fully able to enjoy the rights and privileges of a citizen.
But our history reveals that narrative as false time and again. Reconstruction saw the large-scale stripping of rights recently just gained for a huge segment of the population. The Civil Rights Act never became what it was intended to do, and even now we see it stripped of its power to the point that BIPOC voting power is more and more diluted. Brown vs. the Board of Education did not eliminate segregation or prevent white schools from receiving far more than their fair share of resources.
The Black experience in America is sisyphean, one of continually pushing a boulder uphill, fighting against all odds for what is rightfully ours, and having the boulder rolled back down on us again and again.
“They” Are Coming for Us. We Must Face This Moment Together.
White folks often don’t see this fight, this uphill struggle, as entrenched in America’s creation, as the bedrock on which our country is built. For many, it’s because, in the parlance of Martin Niemölle’s famous words, “they” have never come for them before. Rights and privileges are being taken away that many of us have never had to consider if our lifetimes. The idea that, for example, states could once again ban interracial marriages and the Supreme Court would refuse to intervene has never crossed my mind as a real threat that people could face in my lifetime. But here we are.
When I think that girls today of all races have less control over their bodies and fewer reproductive rights than our grandmothers did, I feel sick to my stomach. When I imagine gay couples facing the possibility once again of a same-sex marriage ban, I’m horrified by the potential miscarriage of justice.
People’s rights are at risk, and I see it as part of the same struggle that Black folks have been engaged in for centuries. For me, that struggle motivates me to fight. The beauty of the struggle comes from its shared nature and the way we can be allies for each other. We can continue to fight, to share our burdens, to unite in our common purpose of ensuring that America moves forward and does not continue our backward slide into oppression and minority rule.
They may come for us separately, but we will face the challenge together.
It May Not Feel Like It, But We Have Weapons in This Fight.
Mobilization, empathy, common purpose, civic engagement even in the face of oppression—these will be our weapons. We cannot fight this enemy separately. But we have political power together. Our stories, our shared pain, will ignite a fire in us that will be impossible to extinguish.
We must engage in all the pathways and avenues to power we can—from voting in national elections to turning out to vote for your city council. From identifying and working to elect allies to state-level executive branch offices to electing progressive district attorneys, judges and more. From exhausting all legal mechanisms possible to putting pressure on corporate entities to support what is right with the power of their dollars. We must leave no stone unturned until we receive justice for all.
We also must support each other in those places that feel hopeless right now, like Louisiana and Texas and Mississippi, the places where the worst things are being done to the most vulnerable. We must find partners and allies who can help us do the work, organize, mobilize and break the systems that are keeping us down.
You might see this is overly optimistic, even naive in the face of the firmly entrenched obstacles and barriers we’re up against. But for the Black community, this is nothing we haven’t faced before. We have faced it many times, over and over again.
What choice do we have but to continue the fight?