Repealing the Last Half of the 20th Century

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority wants to return us to a past that never actually existed.

Marlon Weems
Published in
8 min readJul 26, 2023


The University of Arkansas’s Senior Walk. | Credit: Fayetteville Flyer | Photo: Dustin Bartholomew, Flyer Staff

Not long ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held the belief that centuries of enslavement of Black Americans followed by decades of Jim Crow laws were fundamental wrongs in need of remedies. Regardless of political persuasion, the Court’s justices held the opinion that segregated lunch counters and “separate but equal” laws were profoundly unconstitutional. For generations, the Court considered a woman’s right to bodily autonomy as settled law.

The result of the Court’s judicial consistency on these issues was the most significant expansion of civil liberties since Reconstruction. But in an about-face, the current Court would have us believe the very remedies intended to address past wrongs are themselves the source of injustice.

Now, the Court’s majority view is that discrimination is just another form of free speech. Moreover, the Court’s current position is that financial obligations, no matter how burdensome, only warrant redress when they impact corporations or the well-heeled. And, as of last month, the majority’s view is that the sufficient remedy for four hundred years of Black inequity is a few decades of half-measures.

The Court’s reversal of so many long-held legal precedents is enough to make one’s head spin. So what changed to warrant such a dramatic change in more than fifty years of jurisprudence? The answer is disturbingly simple. Nothing. Nothing except the number of conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a panel discussion last week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, New York Times editorial board member Mara Gay distilled how many Black Americans view the upside-down logic the Court used to arrive at its ruling on affirmative action (emphasis mine):

T]he irony here is that there is nothing colorblind or race-neutral about ignoring seven generations of white supremacy, racism, slavery, Jim Crow, redemption, that has disadvantaged Black Americans and many others and unfairly advantaged, in fact, generations of mostly white students who are finding themselves at some of the nation’s best institutions because their legacy students and you know, the