The Contrast of Title IX’s Anniversary Amidst SCOTUS Rulings

Along with much of the country, I celebrated the 50th anniversary of Title IX this month. Title IX states: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

I celebrated because I have had the chance to see the vital role Title IX played in my opportunities, the opportunities of my students, and most recently my own children. I was old enough to see my sister* have different and limited experiences from the boys in her grade school. By the time she was in junior high and in high school she got to be a part of emerging, equal athletic programs thanks to Title IX. Five years later, I was the beneficiary of those pioneers when I joined more developed tennis and basketball programs. I became a teacher and got to coach middle school girls in three different sports. I got to see my daughter* choose hockey and la crosse as her preferred extracurricular activities. I have loved seeing legendary tennis star Billie Jean King, powerhouse programs like the Minnesota Lynx, the WNBA (turning 25! #thanksTitleIX), and others publicly celebrating Title IX this month.

I am grateful for the opportunities and quality of life Title IX has offered all of us.

Paradoxically, last week the Supreme Court of the United States chipped away at the separation of church and state that I grew up being taught. The separation of church and state protected my religion from state interference and my government from religious interference. The Carson V. Makin decision both undermines our public schools by syphoning public money away from them to pay for religious education, and it threatens religious institutions by making them vulnerable to state interference. Public schools adhere to the non-discrimination statutes and expectations every student deserves; that guarantee is not automatic for religious schools. As Albert Shanker Institute and American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten said, “With public funding comes public accountability. It is wrong to force taxpayers to fund a school that discriminates against our most vulnerable students when the school is supposed to substitute for public education.”

The Supreme Court also stripped states of their rights to protect their citizens from gun violence by carefully regulating who may carry weapons in public. In a particularly smug slap-in-the-face, Justice Alito stated that the New York law regulating who may carry weapons in public wouldn’t have prevented any of the mass shootings that have taken place. While that is a particularly wounding statement to anyone involved in a mass shooting, it also completely disregards the vast majority of gun deaths that are carried out individually with a handgun. According to research from the Pew Research Center and the Centers for Disease Control, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in the United States in 2020. Of that number, 54% were suicides. This same research shows that, while the number of suicides has remained relatively constant over time, the number of murders with a handgun have “climbed sharply” in recent years. The Pew report notes, “the 2020 total represented a 34% increase [in gun murders] from the year before, a 49% increase over five years and a 75% increase over 10 years.”

The callousness cannot be understated for the Supreme Court ignoring the considerable work of millions of Americans trying to protect each other by calling for reforms to our gun laws, in favor of “the most dangerous gun ruling in history, at the worst possible time,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Finally, at the end of last week, one day after celebrating Title IX, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade decision. In 1972, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” became law. In 1973, seven Supreme Court justices issued an opinion that the medical decision to obtain an abortion was protected under a Constitutional right to privacy. For 49 years we have all benefited from this recognized right to bodily autonomy. It is not hard to see the extreme dissonance of a statute that expanded opportunity and the quality of life for millions of people, clash with the decision to force someone to give birth under any and all circumstances, regardless of the impact on health, opportunity, or quality of life. That six members of the Supreme Court overturned 49 years of precedent was not lost on the Disability community. They quickly put out a statement that read, “The majority’s opinion puts bodily autonomy and individual liberty in decision-making at risk and may have consequences that affect personal rights surrounding marriage, family planning, intimacy, sterilization, medical care, housing, speech, and more.”

It is easy to be frustrated by what is being done to us. In this moment, it is important to reflect on the power we still have. We still have the power to tell our current elected officials we believe in expanding, not contracting, issues of justice: funding our public schools, protecting each other from gun violence, and respecting bodily autonomy and private health decisions. We have the power to make our local public schools the schools our students deserve; to advocate to end gun violence; and to support our friends, family members, and neighbors who need assistance getting the healthcare they need. We still have the power to vote this November—to help candidates who support our public schools, community safety, and bodily autonomy.

Voting is not a mindless exercise to say you did something. Making a plan to vote and then voting is one step in the work it will take to defend our democracy. Many of these troubling rulings this year were years in the making. Some benefitted from a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that decimated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Voting is one way to use your voice to elect leaders who represent the values of expanding liberty and justice for all people. Voting is also a direct way to determine if your vote, or the votes of members of your community, are being suppressed. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is asking for information about these experiences. Directly engaging in our democracy by voting is also critically important to demonstrate an engaged electorate. The Supreme Court has just agreed to take another case challenging the Voting Rights Act, Merrill v. Milligan, to determine whether Alabama’s 2021 redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act. The attack on our collective right to vote is still very much alive. Voting isn’t a cop-out; it is a potent way to exercise your right to a voice in our government.

These decisions, as well as others, are dizzying. These Supreme Court decisions have been devastating. And we still have power in our communities and our democracy. Let’s use it. We won’t go back.

*referenced with consent
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