As Justice-Impacted People, We Recognize an Unjust Supreme Court

January 2, 2024

Throughout American history, the judiciary has played a vital role in upholding the
Constitution and safeguarding the nation’s democratic principles. However, recent trends
in the judicial system have raised concerns about the erosion of these foundational pillars, especially for those of us in criminal justice reform. From the reinterpretation of the Constitution to the perception of judicial activism, we recognize the troubling shifts and the potential consequences they may have for the nation.

It is a proven fact that higher education equals lower crime rates and recidivism, because when you know better, you do better. Yet, in a disturbing move towards increasing systemic inequities in American society, the Supreme Court recently gutted affirmative action in college admissions. In the ruling of Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, the Court says colleges and universities can no longer take race into consideration as a specific basis for granting admission, a landmark decision overturning long-standing precedent that has benefited Black and Latinx students in higher education.

This is a serious shift that strikes down decades of hard-won progress towards civil rights and equality in America, and raises many new ominous questions. For instance, what do “Clean Slate” laws mean when you can discriminate based on race?

But this decision is just part of a recent string of Supreme Court rulings that reveals the Court’s descent down the slippery slope of eroding the social fabric of our democratic society. In the recent case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which held that the Constitution of the United States generally protected a pregnant individual’s liberty to have an abortion. That is no longer the case. States can now set their own policies protecting or banning abortion without any federal standard protecting access to abortion, and we know that 55,000 pregnant people enter jails and prisons every year in the U.S. This decision threatens to strip what little rights they have.

We have seen what this injustice system can do, and we are sounding the alarm

In Vega v. Tekoh, this Court ruled that if an officer doesn’t read you your Miranda rights, you cannot sue them for money damages. The Court reduced police accountability by limiting the ability of an accused person to sue a police officer for damages caused by evidence obtained without a Miranda warning, even if that evidence was ultimately used against them in a criminal trial. In addition to a number of other protections impacted by this decision, the Court’s ruling also bars civil lawsuits against the offending law enforcement officer.

This ruling overturned the ruling in the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona, which held that the Fifth Amendment requires law enforcement officials advise suspects of their right to remain silent and to obtain an attorney during interrogations while in police custody. While President Biden promised on the campaign trail in 2019 to reduce incarceration, decisions like this one threaten to expand our already overfilled and unjust criminal legal system.

In Shinn v. Ramirez, the Court decided that incarcerated people will no longer have recourse to federal judicial relief even when they claim they were wrongfully convicted, because their lawyers failed to conduct their cases properly. This flies in the face of the foundational Sixth Amendment constitutional right to a fair trial.

Over the short span of less than two years, this Court—and American society along with it—are speeding backwards along the path to a time similar to the Court’s shameful decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford, where Justice Roger Taney opined that Black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Fast forwarding to the shameful opinion of Herrera v. Collins, written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, in which he argued that the Court has “never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually innocent.’” The Court has basically decided that it is pointless to find a petitioner innocent, because innocence, by itself, was not a legal basis to overturn a conviction.

We are now hearing rumblings that the 1963 Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright—which ruled that the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution guaranteed a right of legal counsel to anyone accused of a crime (a.k.a. “Gideon’s Promise”)—could potentially be struck down by this Court.

What happened to the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society? Instead of “evolving” standards, we see a “devolving” of the standards of decency through the Court’s rolling back of decades of historical civil rights protections and precedence.

As citizens who have been impacted by the criminal legal system in this country—one of us having served 27 years in prison for a conviction that was overturned based on prosecutorial misconduct—we are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. We have seen what this injustice system can do, and we are sounding the alarm now to our fellow Americans that it is time to come together to organize to protect these rights and freedoms before it is too late.

This is why we have worked with other justice-impacted leaders from across the country to launch the JustUS Coordinating Council (JCC) to amplify our voices at the national level and to say enough is enough. The JCC seeks to position our experience with the criminal legal system as the expertise needed to protect the rights and freedoms currently on the Supreme Court’s chopping block. Through building stakeholder engagement with policymakers and a table of directly impacted leaders, we know our collective impact can slow these troubling trends. This new policy table is currently seeking directly impacted leaders to join us and submit membership applications as we elevate our rights and freedoms as citizens.

These rulings portend ominous things to come regarding civil protections in our society. Safeguarding the foundational pillars of America is crucial for the nation’s continued success as a democratic society. The erosion of these pillars through the reinterpretation of the Constitution and the perception of judicial activism undermines the very principles
upon which the country was built.


DeAnna Hoskins and Ronald Simpson-BeyDeAnna Hoskins is President and CEO of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), the nation’s largest tax-exempt criminal justice reform organization that is both founded by and led by formerly incarcerated people. She is also the founder of the JustUS Coordinating Council.

Ronald Simpson-Bey is Executive Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA) and a 2015 Leading with Conviction™ graduate. He served 27 years in the Michigan prison system for a wrongful conviction that was later overturned.

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