Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) Response to the recent Supreme Court’s Decisions Curtailing Basic Civil and Human Rights

The U.S. Supreme Court ended its 2023 term by issuing a series of 6-3 decisions that will erode long-held rights, disproportionately impacting people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, and communities that have been historically subjected to racism and discrimination in the United States. Sociologists for Women in Society decries these decisions that will harm people of color and LGBTQ+ people across the United States. Issued shortly after the first-year anniversary of the Dobbs decision striking down Roe, these recent decisions inspire us as feminist scholars and activists to fight harder than ever for a more just and equitable society.

On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court put an ostensible end to race-conscious admissions policies at colleges and universities across the country in its ruling that invalidates admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. The ruling in Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admission v. University of North Carolina (S.F.F.A. cases) undercuts almost 50 years of progressive movement towards combating systemic barriers to education for students of color. The majority opinion found that universities’ use of affirmative action to admit a diverse student body violates the guarantee of equal protection of the laws and the prohibition of discrimination based on race. In her dissent, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson pointed to the racist logic behind this decision: “With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness … the majority pulls the ripcord and announces ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat.” Similar to the outcome of passing Proposition 209 in California, the SCOTUS decision will have an extremely negative effect on ongoing efforts to increase diversity and fight racism in higher education.

The Court didn’t stop at toppling affirmative action. On June 30, 2023, it dealt a major blow to the rights of LGBTQ+ people in the United States, confirming the argument of a website designer who said she had a First Amendment right to refuse to create wedding websites for same-sex couples. The Court’s ruling on 303 Creative LLC vs. Elenis framed the case as an issue of free speech. Justice Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion stated that Colorado cannot “force an individual to speak in ways that align with its views but defy her conscience about a matter of major significance.” SWS believes that the Court’s decision puts prejudice before equality and undercuts long-fought non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people and same-sex couples. It also greenlights justifications for businesses to discriminate against people simply because of who they are or who they love. 

Each of these decisions overlooks the valuable insights of sociology: that we are not a collective of individuals but, rather, we exist as a social order–systematically organized in ways that tend to advantage some while they disadvantage others. The court has failed to see that race and sexuality are not personal traits; they are components of larger systems of social meaning and organization that impacts our lives in particular ways. As Judge Brown Jackson points out, social order has consequences and should be taken into account by the court.  

Sociologists for Women in Society strongly opposes these two US Supreme Court decisions.  We will continue our firm commitment to supporting people of color and LGBTQ+ populations in our ongoing efforts to create an inclusive and just society. 


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