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The Wrap Up: How The Last Round of U.S. Supreme Court Decisions Affect Black People

People demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in response to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling on June 24. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The U.S. Supreme Court’s most momentous session in recent history ended June 30, leaving many Americans — particularly Black and brown people — in a state of shock and dismay. The panel of nine justices handed down life-altering rulings that transformed the landscape on reproductive rights, restricted government action on climate change and limited recourse for victims of wrongful convictions.

With six Republican-appointed justices on the court, the landmark 2021-2022 session has ended with elected officials calling for impeachment of two jurists, pending bills to end lifetime appointments and renewed calls to expand the number of justices on the bench.

It’s the culmination of decades of Republican efforts to shift the ideological balance of the court to the right. Justice Clarence Thomas, the second Black man appointed to the high court, joined in 1991 amid allegations of sexual harassment and controversial views on issues such as affirmative action. In 2017, after Republican senators blocked the nomination of Merick Garland in Barack Obama’s final year as president, President Donald Trump appointed Neil Gorsuch to the seat. Trump’s second appointee, Brett Kavanaugh, overcame scrutiny amid accusations of sexual assault by multiple women. And in 2020, the final year of Trump’s presidency, he appointed Amy Coney Barrett to take the seat of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg following her death — giving conservatives a long awaited super majority on the Supreme Court.

Justice Stephen Breyer — one of three liberal justices on the court last term — bid his adieu on June 30, and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman on the bench. But the court’s next term, beginning in October, will continue to have the legal and advocacy communities on the edge of their seats and clenching their jaws.


Because Jackson is replacing another liberal voice, leaving the court’s conservative leaning intact for now. But as Ada Goodly Lampkin, director of the Louis A. Berry Institute for Civil Rights and Justice at Southern University Law Center said before Jackson’s confirmation in the spring, it’s “monumental to have inclusivity in those decisions that become the values of our country,” even when expressed through dissenting opinions.

Here’s a breakdown of the major decisions that came down from the Supreme Court during this landmark session and a preview of the issues that could define the court’s next term.

Abortion rights

The decision: Nationwide access to abortion has shifted dramatically after the high court ruled to overturn a 50-year precedent that established a constitutional right to the procedure. The court’s 6-3 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization does not ban on abortions but gives individual states the power to aggressively restrict or deny abortion access. The majority opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito.

How it affects you: The impact of the Dobbs decision will fall disproportionately on Black people, who receive about a third of abortions nationwide. Maternal health experts also fear the ruling will further widen the maternal mortality gap. Currently, Black women are at least three times more likely than white women to die due to pregnancy-related causes. 

Reproductive health care and access to abortion now varies by state. Many have put bans or restrictions in place that make it difficult to access an abortion provider. Other states, like California, Oregon, and Washington, have committed to protecting reproductive rights.

— Margo Snipe

Miranda rights

The decision: In Vega v. Tekoh, the court ruled that suspects no longer have the right to sue police officers who fail to recite Miranda warnings and use the suspect’s self-incriminating statements against them in a criminal case. The term “Miranda warnings” stems from the 1966 case Miranda v. Arizona, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a suspect must be advised of their Fifth Amendment right to “remain silent.” The 6-3 opinion in Vega v. Tekoh, written by Alito, stated that Miranda warnings are not a constitutional right. 

How it affects you: As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissenting opinion, if officers do not recite Miranda warnings, a suspect’s statements could be improperly used against them by a prosecutor during a criminal case. Kagan wrote, “Sometimes, as a result, a defendant will be wrongly convicted and spend years in prison.” Even if the person is later released, Kagan said, the high court’s ruling leaves the person without a remedy to hold that police officer accountable.  

Of the approximately 3,100 wrongful convictions identified nationally since 1989, more than 1,600 are Black men and women, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Nearly 200 of those exonerations stemmed from a combination of a false confession, police officer misconduct, and misconduct in interrogation of an exoneree. 

Now, if an exoneree seeks compensation for wrongful imprisonment citing an officer’s failure to recite Miranda warnings, a judge could toss the lawsuit.

— Christina Carrega

Wrongful convictions

The decision: The court ruled that an incarcerated or convicted person does not have a constitutional right to present new evidence post-conviction that shows that their defense attorney’s representation was inadequate. The 6-3 opinion was written by Thomas.

How it affects you: The Sixth Amendment asserts the right to effective counsel at trial, and in the dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that “The Court’s decision will leave many people who were convicted in violation of the Sixth Amendment to face incarceration or even execution without any meaningful chance to vindicate their right to counsel.”

In the criminal justice system, Black and brown people often rely on court-appointed attorneys to defend themselves because of the high cost of private attorneys. Public defenders are often overworked and underpaid, leaving their clients susceptible to less rigorous representation. 

In the more than 3,100 wrongful convictions that have been overturned since 1989, 825 stemmed from an inadequate legal defense. More than half of those involving an ineffective defense attorney were Black, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

— Christina Carrega

Concealed gun rights

The decision: In a 6-3 opinion, the court ruled it is unconstitutional to prevent legal gun owners in New York from carrying a concealed firearm outside of their homes as a form of self-defense. The opinion, written by Thomas, stemmed from the case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al v. Bruen, Superintendent of New York State Police, et al

How it affects you: While the court’s opinion still requires gun owners to have a permit or license to carry a concealed firearm, It ruled that it’s unconstitutional for a state to require applicants to show a need for self-defense. Some fear that the ruling will give police officers more reason to suspect citizens are armed, opening the door to more racial profiling of Black and brown people.

In the dissent, Breyer wrote that the court’s ruling further complicates efforts of gun law reformers and anti-gun-violence advocates. “Firearms in public present a number of dangers, ranging from mass shootings to road rage killings, and are responsible for many deaths and injuries in the United States,” Breyer wrote. 

There are five other states — California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey — with similar gun laws that may be up for scrutiny and are home to cities with larger populations of minorities than other states. 

— Christina Carrega

Dialysis coverage

The decision: The court ruled that group health insurance plans can limit outpatient dialysis benefits for patients with end-stage renal disease. The 7-2 opinion issued in the case Marietta Memorial Hospital Employee Health Benefit Plan v. DaVita Inc. was authored by Kavanaugh. 

How it affects you: End-stage renal disease, or kidney failure, is far more common among Black patients than any other racial group and more than three times than among white Americans, according to the most recent report by the United States Renal Data Service. The Supreme Court’s decision may further widen existing disparities in access to dialysis treatment. 

Davita argued that the Marietta Memorial Hospital’s employee health plan illegally discriminates against dialysis patients in later stages of kidney failure by reimbursing the treatment at lower out-of-network rates. By allowing employer insurance plans to consider all dialysis providers out of network, the court’s ruling could push patients with kidney failure off their private insurance and onto Medicare, which covers dialysis treatments.

— Margo Snipe

Greenhouse gas regulations

The decision: In a 6-3 decision, the high court drastically limited the federal government’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. In West Virginia v. the Environmental Protection Agency, the court supported a lawsuit brought by two dozen states that argued they had little say in the country’s shift away from fossil fuels. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion.

How it affects you: As the three dissenting justices said, the ruling strips the country’s most influential environmental body of “the power to respond to the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.” It has the potential to stifle some of the Biden administration’s efforts to address climate change by giving a volatile Congress more say in the country’s energy transition. It could also complicate efforts to clean up the nation’s air and build out wind and solar power. 

For Black Americans, the impact of this ruling will hit hardest. Black people are 75% more likely than white people to live next to polluting power plants, and with a limited EPA and a subsequent increase in greenhouse gas emissions, poor health outcomes such as cancer, lung disease, and even diabetes, could follow. 

— Adam Mahoney 

School prayer

The decision: The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled in favor of a Washington state high school coach who said that he had a constitutional right to kneel and pray on the football field. Justices in the majority — all conservative — argued that the coach prayed only after each game ended, when he was technically no longer responsible for the students. Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion.

How it affects you: The court’s ruling in Joseph A. Kennedy v. Bremerton School District was among several in this session that were decided in favor of religious plaintiffs. The dissenting justices argued that the school prayer decision will prompt future rulings that “sets us further down a perilous path in forcing states to entangle themselves with religion.”

The coach’s decision to espouse his religious views on a football field is reminiscent of other debates about conduct in sports. Conservatives have fiercely criticized athletes who in recent years kneeled on football fields in protest of systemic racism in the U.S. Critics of the school prayer ruling argue that the Supreme Court’s decision shows a double standard. 

— Giulia Heyward

What’s up next

These are some of the key issues expected to come before the Supreme Court in its next session, which begins in October.

Affirmative action

The Supreme Court is gearing up to hear a case that will tackle the use of affirmative action in admissions decisions at colleges and universities. Affirmative action policies have helped institutions increase the diversity of their student bodies, leading to a higher number of enrolled Black students. The justices will hear two lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina alleging that the institutions used affirmative action to discriminate against Asian American applicants. 

While this isn’t the first time the Supreme Court is hearing an affirmative action case, the ideological makeup of the current bench — with a 6-3 conservative majority — leads some to believe that the court will rule against the universities’ affirmative action practices. In the event that the Supreme Court decides that this practice is discriminatory, schools will no longer feel obligated to ensure their schools are racially diverse. 

— Giulia Heyward

Voting rights

In February, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of reinstating the 2022 election redistricting map put in place by Alabama’s GOP-controlled state legislature. A lower court had previously determined the map dilutes Black votes in Alabama, violating the 1964 Voting Rights Act in the process.

Kavanaugh argued that the lower court’s order requiring a new map be drawn would create too much disorder ahead of the state’s May 24 primary election. “When an election is close at hand, the rules of the road must be clear and settled,” Kavanaugh wrote in his concurring opinion. The court didn’t rule on the merits of the case in February, opting to do so in the fall during the court’s next session

This case could further diminish the protections included in the Voting Rights Act, which made it more difficult for states with a history of discriminating against Black voters to create barriers to voting, such as poll taxes and literacy tests.

Adding to the voting rights threat, the court also has agreed to hear Moore v. Harper, a North Carolina redistricting case, in its next session. 

Under current law, courts have the power to check state legislatures that create heavily gerrymandered district maps. If that judicial power is undermined by the North Carolina case, GOP-led state legislatures will have more freedom to create districts that limit the voting power of predominantly Black communities.

— Chauncey Alcorn

LGBTQ rights

In the dissenting opinion to Dobbs, the liberal justices noted that the 14th Amendment — on which Roe v. Wade was based — is also the basis for Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that ruled same-sex marriage is a fundamental right. By overturning the Roe decision, the court has opened the floodgates for the end of LGBTQIA rights, the dissenting justices argued.

The 14th Amendment states that citizens of the United States are guaranteed “equal protection of laws.” In his own concurring opinion, Thomas said Obergefell, along with other Supreme Court cases decided on the basis of the 14th amendment, should be reconsidered. 

— Kenya Hunter