For the second year in a row, the Supreme Court of the United States stripped away progress and left people across the nation hopeless. That is the enduring legacy this court seems dead set on securing.

In particular, the twin rulings against affirmative action and student debt relief ensured another generation of minorities will remain crushed beneath hundreds of years of institutional injustice. It is devasting for them individually, their communities and our country as a whole.

Yes, yes, SCOTUS also issued the Right to Be an Asshole Ruling in support of a Colorado web designer who invented a fake scenario that likely should not have been heard in the first place. And if you are offended by the language, trust me it is nothing compared to the bigotry of the folks at the Colorado GOP peeing themselves in excitement to deride and denigrate the LGBTQ+ community.

But as much as I dislike that decision, it pales in comparison to what the court did to communities of color.

With Independence Day approaching, the Supreme Court chose to tie the country down to its history of slavery, discrimination and oppression. That is the long-term effect of its ruling. It ensured that the same people who have struggled against ruling class white America must attempt to climb the steep, slippery slope toward equality with their hands tied behind their backs. 

In America today, the wage gap between white workers and Black workers has grown from 16.4% in 1979 to 24.4% in 2019. Much of that is based on the discrepancies in educational opportunities in generations prior. Affirmative action in university selection and student debt relief were intended to slow, if not reverse, that trend.

Higher education is the path toward economic stability, not just for individuals, but for the generations that follow. Families struggling to make ends meet often cannot devote the time and energy to improving their children’s education, much less the expense for help outside school and with college.

That is the reality most minorities in America have faced for centuries. Locked out of high-income jobs that can generate wealth, the struggles of one generation portend the struggles of the next. It is not always true on an individual level, but on a macro community level it plays out frequently.

Add in social determinants such as lack of access to health care, food deserts and irregular child care and the mountain grows higher every day.

But with the help of affirmative action, some BIPOC individuals were able to get into college, work hard and begin to build more stable footing. It provided a modicum of relief from layer upon layer of systemic disparity built decade after decade. 

The student debt relief had a similar intention. Because most minority students, and particularly Black students, must finance higher education through debt, it meant starting a post-degree life in the hole. Given that education only closes the income gap, but does not eliminate it, that means increased difficulty paying back loans in addition to housing costs in addition to health care costs in addition to rising food costs … and so on.

Helping reduce that burden, if not eliminate it entirely, would disproportionately have helped Black Americans. That would have then allowed income that may have been spent paying off student loans to be directed toward savings or investments or starting a business. Person by person, family by family, it could help straighten the vicious cycle too many have found themselves within.

Instead, six members of the Supreme Court (I cannot bring myself to refer to them as “justices” right now), decided to pull both stepping stones from under the feet of communities still struggling with oppression. Their opinions likely would have done former Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney — author of the Dred Scott decision — proud.

Certainly, those two decisions moved us much closer to the bifurcated society he preferred and the separate but (un)equal world the court would create a half century later in Plessy v Ferguson. They are at best blind to need for change and at worst uncaring and unmoved by it.

Simply put, those members of the court condemned entire classes of citizens to life under the yoke of hopeless racial disparity. That is the legacy they have chosen to forge.

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq.

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