The first thing I did when my JCJ summer fellowship began was compare JCJ’s agenda with the Supreme Court decisions expected to be released in June 2023. I thoroughly researched each topic that was presented to the court this past session, which included voting rights, racial justice, and affirmative action.

This research helped me understand the impact that Supreme Court decisions have on our daily lives. Our nation’s highest court, which can reinforce or remove all our civil liberties, represents both the pursuit of justice and the injustice faced daily in this country. Some rulings give people a sense of hope by freeing them from oppression, while others make people feel trapped and isolated by their limited autonomy and rights.

In 2023, decisions have been released rather anti-climatically. While there have been several key wins, anxiety looms over what is next. There’s understandable concern that we could see more rulings like last year when the Supreme Court rolled back Roe and sent the issue back to the states. For example, if affirmative action is overturned, the process of applying to colleges and employment would be upended along with it.

All of this research brought me to the question, “What does justice mean in the eyes of the Supreme Court?” From civics courses, we know that the Supreme Court becomes involved when there is a question of whether or not a law is constitutional. While the individual justices are supposed to be unbiased,  the Court has had different philosophies over the decades. This means that sometimes we don’t see our version of justice reflected in court rulings. In these cases, we must fight to make a difference. 

I now have an even better understanding of the Court’s importance. I’ve studied—and will continue to study—how the judicial system can dictate the trajectory of our lives, including how we access services and obtain human rights. It will not be easy. To effectively advocate for issues across this country, we must understand our court system and laws.

There are other ways we can take direct action toward our advocacy goals such as being involved in the court system, filing amicus curiae, or showing support for or against the petitioner. This has been successful in victories such as Brown v. Board of Education and in losses such as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Regardless of one’s stance on how the Supreme Court rules, we cannot deny its influence, which is why it is critical that we educate ourselves on the American judicial system.

Sophie Koz is from Bellevue, Washington, and attends American University in Washington, D.C.