Jun 29, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Dems train fire on Supreme Court over affirmative action ruling

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and other House Democrats. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

A Supreme Court ruling gutting affirmative action in college admissions touched off a flurry of anger from congressional Democrats on Thursday — with many focusing their animus on the court itself.

Why it matters: Relations between Democrats and the court have grown increasingly strained in the years since a majority of six Republican-appointed justices took hold.

What they’re saying: Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) in a statement labeled the six conservatives “Justice ‘Harlan Crow’ Thomas and five other MAGAs,” a reference to Clarence Thomas receiving lavish gifts from billionaire GOP donor Harlan Crow.

  • “This judicial activism must be met with passage of my legislation to expand SCOTUS,” continued Johnson, a senior House Judiciary Committee member. “Supreme Court Reform Now!”
  • Congressional Black Caucus Chair Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) in a joint statement with other Caucus members said that the court has “thrown into question its own legitimacy.”
  • “Once again, this partisan, unelected court is enacting by fiat far-right policies Republicans have been unable or too scared to enact at the ballot box,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.).

Democratic leaders were no more muted in their responses, swiping at the institution with statements that repudiated the ruling.

  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the ruling “misguided,” while House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said the court has “turned a blind eye to systemic racism.”
  • “Extremists on the Supreme Court are once again more interested in jamming their right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people,” Jeffries said.

The details: In a 6-3 ruling on Thursday morning, the court ruled that colleges cannot explicitly consider applicants’ race as part of their admissions process, marking a significant departure from decades of standard practice in academia.

  • The court ruled that admissions practices at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina discriminate against white and Asian students.

What we’re watching: Johnson is not the only one floating a legislative response to the ruling — though Democrats are constrained by both a House GOP majority and the Senate filibuster.

  • Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) pointed to his bill with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) restricting legacy and donor-based admissions at colleges that receive federal aid.
  • Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) promoted legislation expanding Pell Grants and expanding teacher diversity.
  • “Universities must affirm their commitment to racial and ethnic diversity, and we must legislate — at all levels of government,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).

The big picture: Republicans’ refusal to give liberal Merrick Garland a vote in 2016 and their confirmation of conservative Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 created a solid conservative majority on the nation’s highest court.

  • Democrats, in turn, have amplified efforts to reform the court, including by adding seats and instituting ethics rules.
  • Public approval of the court in opinion polls has plummeted to historic lows in recent years, with public viewing their rulings as increasingly ideological.
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