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  • AQA Component The judicial branch of government; Civil rights

  • Edexcel Component 4.3: The US Supreme Court and public policy; 4.5: Race and rights in contemporary US politics

Background: what you need to know

In a recent judgment, the US Supreme Court has ruled against affirmative action as practised by North Carolina and Harvard universities. This is the practice whereby diversity is protected by taking race into account as a factor in university admissions. As the reaction to the ruling shows, this is a touchstone issue which divides US conservatives and liberals. It revolves around contrasting interpretations of the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause. Make sure that you understand the competing arguments put forward by the two sides.

The story also illustrates the Court’s ability to over-rule its own earlier decisions — in this case, the pro-AA ruling in Grutter vs Bollinger (2003). This links to the changing composition of the Court, which now has a 6-3 conservative majority following recent appointments.

Click the link below to read the article and then answer the questions:

US Supreme Court curbs consideration of race in university admissions

and see the link to this article for a broader critique:

America’s anything-goes Supreme Court

The author argues that the politicised method of appointment to the Court, and the virtual impossibility of removing justices regardless of their conduct, threaten the credibility of the US judicial system.

Question in the style of AQA Politics Paper 2

  • ‘The US Supreme Court has been ineffective in upholding individual and minority rights in the twenty-first century.’ Analyse and evaluate this statement. [25 marks]

Question in the style of Edexcel Politics Paper 3

  • Evaluate the view that the US Supreme Court has been ineffective in upholding civil rights in recent decades. You must consider this view and the alternative to this view in a balanced way. [30 marks]

    TIP: Affirmative action in university admissions is just one example of a contested right that has been affected by recent Supreme Court rulings. You could also look at the 2022 ruling on abortion and at several judgments with a bearing on the right to bear arms.

Graham Goodlad, Portsmouth High School

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