Professor Anita Hill talks about the future of equality and United States Supreme Court

February 12, 2021

In a Jan. 18 event, Professor Anita Hill (AAAS/LGLS/HS/WGS) talked about the duality of her excitement for Vice President Kamala Harris’ historic inauguration and concern that calls for unity would paper over lingering problems of inequality in America.

Hill started out by addressing the attempted insurrection at the Capitol Building on Jan. 6, where conspiracy theorists, white supremacists and supporters of the former president answered his calls to “stop the steal” by breaking into the building and attempting to violently stop Congress from certifying the electoral college votes. 

The implication of what Hill called “‘stop the steal’ thinking” is a “message among the various reactionary movements … that previously marginalized people, including people of color and women, are somehow ‘stealing’ something economic and cultural away from white men,” Hill explained at the event. Later, she made a point of saying that the country is not evenly divided, and the problem lies in “a vocal and violent minority,” but that she has hope for rallying a majority. 

Hill also spoke about the many facets of legal equality. “We need to be sure that we look at inequality and think about inequality across different platforms, including environmental law, constitutional law, labor law, as well as criminal law,” she explained. She also added that this extends beyond federal judiciary, saying that it is important not to lose focus on the role or potential role of the executive and legislative branches, as well as state and local law. After this the event was opened up to student questions for Hill.

When asked about the merits of adding more justices on the Supreme Court, or otherwise adjusting its size to change its ideological makeup, a process colloquially known as court packing, Hill commented that while court packing might be convenient for the Biden administration, (assuming that it would even be feasible) it “would open up a dangerous precedent for future presidents.” 

Hill also said that it would erode the independence of the judiciary, and that any president with a friendly Congress would also be able to have a Supreme Court unlikely to challenge them. Furthermore, she said that increasing the number of people on the Court may also increase the number of judicial philosophies represented on the bench, making majority decisions less likely than plurality decisions, let alone the sorts of unanimous decisions that she said lead to societal change, such as Brown v. Board of Education

Speaking on the role of the Court in regards to immigrant rights, Hill said that the makeup of the Court, which she described as “not just conservative but fringe conservative,” means that “we will see a narrowing definition of equality.” She acknowledged that there may be some surprising decisions, like Bostock v. Clayton County over the summer, which extended Title VII civil rights protections to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexuality, but that the overall trend of the Court will be against various forms of equality in the near future. 

In response to a separate question, Hill also expressed concerns about what the Court might do to women’s rights, including what a repeal of the Affordable Care Act might do to the ability of women to get treatment after intimate partner violence, as well as threats to abortion rights. Hill said that the Violence Against Women Act has been gutted in much the same way that the Voting Rights Act has been. As for abortion rights, if given the right case, Hill believes that the Court “would significantly chip away” at them. 

She also said that while she is not aware of any current cases on policing due to the Department of Justice’s lack of interest since the departure of Attorney General Eric Holder, she hopes that the Department will return to that, and that the conversation on policing will expand. Specifically, she said that Black girls and LGBTQ youth are overpoliced in schools, especially in relation to dress codes, and that the system for dealing with rape and sexual assault “has not been victim-oriented.”

In conclusion, Hill said that she could not easily sum up the problems the country is facing, nor offer any simple solutions, but that she hopes there will be a new generation of Heller School for Social Policy graduates ready to help deal with the problems she mentioned.

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