Shimer College

July 08, 2013

SCOTUS and Higher Education

In recent weeks, we have seen several decisions by the US Supreme Court (aka SCOTUS) that affect higher education – and not all of them are obvious.

Every time the Supreme Court acts it impacts our lives, whether we know it or not, for it determines, in some ways, the law of the land. And, we ought to pay attention.

Here are the decisions that have recently come out:

  1. SCOTUS returned the issue of affirmative action to lower courts. Yes, it did. And, that means that higher education – colleges and universities – are cautiously thinking about their (our) strategies for addressing race (and class) in admissions. Why? Well, our prior history of direct and intentional racial discrimination in access to higher education is undeniable. And, of course, that history remains influential in both direct and indirect ways today. Equally (or more) importantly, not all racial discrimination is a matter of history – much of it occurs in today’s America. It is important to note that we are most definitely NOT in a “post-racial” country as some believed accompanied our election of an African American to our highest office. So, this decision is quite important for all of us.
  2. Equally important – and quite definitely a significant change – is the SCOTUS decision to reject DOMA and Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s sentences matter: “DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.” DOMA is, of course, the Defense of Marriage Act.

Why does this affect higher education? At least the following issues are pertinent:

  1. In some ways, this decision does not impact higher education much, since the recent decision to insist/allow same sex parents to fill out a FAFSA together.
  2. On the other hand, not all same sex partners are the parents of college attendees (and not all college attendees are traditional age). So, employees, students, and others lives may be shaped by the underlying principle of this decision – and thus institutional policies may be affected. Right? And this is not to mention such matters as health care coverage, the status of domestic partner rights (which one hopes are not abandoned in favor of the view that only the married deserve rights), etcetera.

Of course, there are other court decisions that affect higher education.

So: SCOTUS and higher education. Your views?