Though the Supreme Court of the United States is the most powerful court in the judicial branch of the government, its roles are most often conducted behind the scenes. A senator might be able to ride the waves of viral Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) footage onto Instagram and into a double-digit polling campaign for the presidency, but a Supreme Court justice cannot, even if they resign. The judicial system is complex, and by design, lacks the celebrity status and drama of both the presidency and Congress, but its impact runs deep.
Two recently debated cases at the Supreme Court deserve our attention.
A scroll through CNN’s headlines or a cursory glance at Fox News on the television shows a country enamored by Latin slang, the next presidential election and democracy in Latin America and Hong Kong. In early summer, the Supreme Court made headlines leading up to their decision about a citizenship question on the census. Just last September, Christine Blasey Ford stood before the United States Senate and described her memories of now-Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh, sexually assaulting her in high school. Beyond those two events, most college students probably could not remember a major news event involving the Supreme Court in the last two years.
As students, we are privy to localized hubs of dialogue and encouraged to experiment in our ways of growing and thinking. We are part of communities that interact with one another constantly and intimately. Some of those communities center around hobbies or fields of study, while others cater to identity or experience. Many of these groups experience marginalization. But few are debated at our nation’s highest court.
On Nov. 12, the Supreme Court heard arguments for the case Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California to decide whether President Trump’s administration acted legally in moving to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), and whether that is even judicially reviewable. There are at least 700,000 DACA recipients, or DREAMers, who would face deportation if DACA ended.
Just over two months ago, the Supreme Court heard arguments for the case R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which will decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against individuals based on gender identity and sexual orientation “on the basis of sex.” There is no federal legislation protecting queer and transgender individuals. The Equality Act was passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year, but is predictably being stalled in the Republican-led Senate.
Add the Words Idaho, an LGBTQIA+ advocacy group, has worked to include the words “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” in the state’s Human Rights Act for over a decade. Ada County recently approved the expansion of anti-discrimination policies for LGBTQIA+ county employees. Several cities in Idaho protect their residents, but this is a small portion of Idaho’s population.
The DACA case is structurally different: rather than offering to protect individuals, the DACA case is threatening individuals. If the court decides that the Department of Homeland Security’s action is not judicially reviewable, it keeps the green light for the Trump administration to continue removing DACA, which would almost certainly mean deportation for thousands.
When people talk about institutional oppression, this is it. It is a privilege not to have your identity and experience debated in our country’s highest court. In the span of two months, nine people — none of whom have an identity within either the immigrant community or the LGBTQIA+ community — heard arguments to decide whether people in those communities have access to the freedom that we identify as fundamentally American.
Broncos, support your communities. Educate yourself and your friends, and reach out in support. You pass someone who will be affected by one of these decisions every day in the quad. They live down the hall from you and study the same things as you do. They have the same dreams as you.