The Supreme Court had a banner week: overturning affirmative action, ruling that it’s OK to discriminate against gay people, and blocking President Biden’s plan to relieve up to 43 million Americans from crippling debt.
But that apparently wasn’t enough: The Supreme Court made a number of smaller, but still abhorrent, decisions as well.
The court also spent the week deciding several cases to hear next term. One, US v. Rahimi, involves the question of whether a law barring people subject to domestic violence restraining orders from accessing guns violates the Second Amendment, a case that could allow domestic abusers to acquire and carry weapons. Women are five times more likely to die at the hands of a domestic abuser if the abuser has access to a gun. And the threats are all the more relevant in a country plagued with mass shootings. In almost half of shootings in which four or more people were killed, the shooter had shot an intimate partner or family member.
While the court decided to take up the question of whether to arm domestic abusers with these numbers, it also chose to deny hearing the appeal of a Black Mississippi man on death row who alleges that his conviction was the result of racist jury selection. In 2019, the court heard a similar case involving another Mississippi man, Curtis Flowers, who has since been exonerated. Flowers was on death row himself for almost 23 years, until the Supreme Court itself vacated the murder conviction he faced.
“The State’s relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals strongly suggests that the State wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black jurors as possible, and ideally before an all-white jury,” wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Now the court isn’t interesting in hearing another potential case of Mississippi racial jury stacking.
“Because this Court refuses to intervene, a Black man will be put to death in the State of Mississippi based on the decision of a jury that was plausibly selected based on race,” Sotomayor wrote, alongside Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. “The result is that Flowers will be toothless in the very State where it appears to be still so needed,” she added.
Finally, the court also refused to hear a pair of cases surrounding qualified immunity, which protects police officers from liability when they kill someone. In one, Lombardo v. City of St. Louis, the court would have ruled on whether police officers who held a hand- and leg-cuffed homeless man face down on the floor of a small holding cell and pushed into his back, killing him, would be entitled to qualified immunity. The preceding court, the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled the city and police department weren’t liable because the victim, Nicholas Gilbert, apparently did not have the right “to be free of such force.”
Officers say Gilbert was resisting arrest. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in her dissent, said she would have vacated the Eighth Circuit’s ruling and asked the lower court to address the question “without assuming that Gilbert’s final movements were those of a dangerously noncompliant person posing a threat, rather than of a dying man struggling to breathe while adequately restrained by handcuffs and leg shackles and surrounded by six officers in a secure cell.”
In the other case, N.S. vs. Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, the same Eighth Circuit court ruled that a Kansas City police officer who shot in the back of the head and killed an allegedly unarmed, nonviolent Black man, who was peacefully surrendering, was shielded by qualified immunity.
That’s where things stand as the Supreme Court term ends: 43 million people forced into crippling debt; at least 24 million LGBTQ people now vulnerable to even more discrimination; wealthy, well-connected families still free to buy their kids into college; and a loud affirmation that so-called “bad apple” cops are free to be kings of the crop.