Each recent SCOTUS decision warrants extensive discussion. However, a common thread binds them together — white male Christian nationalism.
We can start with the Dobbs decision. What better way to marginalize women than to control their reproduction? Unplanned pregnancies occur for many reasons and under many circumstances. Depriving women of the ability to end those pregnancies early, easily and safely ensures ongoing harm, in many forms, to the woman, the child and her family, as demonstrated by the Turnaway Study. The overtones of conservative interpretations of Christian and Hebrew scriptures as the impetus for this ruling obliterate the right of those with different interpretations, faith traditions and world views to religious freedom, agency and bodily autonomy.
The racist intent of the decision to end affirmative action in college admissions couldn’t be clearer nor the supporting legal arguments any weaker. The 14th Amendment’s very intent was affirmative action — an effort to rebut the Dred Scott decision and to clearly declare that former Black slaves were fully human and endowed with equal rights under the law. For those justices who proclaimed the value of precedent during confirmation hearings, we note the importance of Brown v. Board of Education, as it declared firmly that separate is not equal when it comes to public accommodations and education. The downstream effects of declining minority enrollment in the elite colleges and universities of the country can only serve to ensure a shrinking pool of diverse talent for leadership positions. To add insult to injury, The New York Times noted that this decision will also chill affirmative action and diversity efforts in corporate America.
The overturn of the student loan forgiveness program puts another nail in the coffin of college aspirations for marginalized groups. As of Jan. 27, an estimated 40 million persons were eligible, 26 million had applied and 16 million had their application approved — including 121,000 in Utah. Further, 90% of the benefit was estimated to go to those earning less than $75,000 per year. Multiple anecdotes describe persons saddled with educational debt from predatory loans well into midlife and even old age. And, as noted by The New York Times, admission policies are not the only hurdles that low-income and minority students face when it comes to fulfilling dreams of a life-enabling college education.
Finally, the decision allowing a web designer to refuse to design wedding webpages for same sex couples has implications well beyond that narrow setting. Notably, the SCOTUS decision was made on the basis of free speech and religion and, thus, is easily applied to virtually any setting where a public accommodation or business wishes to deny services to just about anyone — especially those in “protected” classes. The understanding that public accommodations and services are just that — public and open to all of us — is fundamentally altered. Are we ready for the return of a male only, Blacks not welcome, Jews excluded and LGBTQ persons need not apply society? Sadly, the client cited in her case had dubious standing, as he was heterosexual and had not requested those services.
Heather McGhee makes the point in her book, “The Sum of Us,” that these measures are ultimately rooted in racism, harming not only the intended target, but all of us. Classic examples included those towns that filled in public swimming pools and closed parks rather than integrate them. She convincingly traces the decline in many of our social contracts and systems, including higher education, to the same mentality.
Sadly, this reality of self-harm has escaped these perpetrators of ongoing injustice. Further, the remedies are not clear — the tentacles of racism, patriarchy and Christian nationalism have buried themselves deeply into our national persona, often well-hidden from the casual observer. Too many levers of power have been co-opted by those who would harm us — a plan decades long in its planning and execution.
Our only hope is “wokeness.” Engage. Speak out. Vote. Run for office. The remedies won’t come easily or quickly — the Equal Rights Amendment still isn’t in place 100 years after its introduction. But fight we must. Our lives and democracy depend on it.
The Women’s Democratic Club of Utah, a nonprofit originally established in 1896, is one of the oldest women’s clubs in the United States, with a rich history of championing women’s rights and progressive values since its founding.