HBCUs Should Be Closely Watching the Brett Kavanaugh Confirmation Saga

Short of Christine Blasey Ford delivering irrefutable proof in a few days of her sexual assault at the hands of Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh more than 30 years ago, the would-be high court judge will likely be confirmed by hyper-partisan US Senate with a slim margin for error in a week or so.

Complaints will echo from the left, and the right will drown out the cries of sexism and patriarchy with a look towards a long road of reversals on judicial standards that will resonate throughout higher education. Among them, issues like labor equity, voting districting, free speech, and the distribution of resources between predominantly white and historically black institutions will have a particular impact on our campuses.

These decisions, if they come before the Supreme Court with a 5-4 balance in favor of conservative values, have a chance to dramatically change the way schools do business. For HBCUs with low resources in personnel, technology and legal defense, campuses should be specially prepared for a potential new future of operations and administration.

The future of faculty unionization has begun in lower courts and could make its way to the Supreme Court. The reversal of National Labor Relations Board ruling spares HBCUs the costs of ensuring and protecting faculty employment, but it could also have a significant impact in their ability to recruit adjunct and full-time professors who may create a mass exodus from the field as a result of fewer protections.

An HBCU teaching and training labor force which currently boasts small class sizes and nurturing relationships from faculty could change with a 5-4 vote.

Voter gerrymandering and redistricting have been a hot-button issue in HBCU cities and states, with North Carolina A&T State University at the center of examples on the GOP’s ravaging tactics to box out minority voters from equitable representation in state elections.

HBCUs swing elections, frequently for liberal contenders. A 5-4 Supreme Court vote could change all of that.

HBCUs have been a quietly growing segment of the campus free speech reformation culture in recent years. And while it has largely been covered in media for conservative voices and perspectives being honored at PWIs, HBCUs like Texas Southern University, Bethune-Cookman University and Howard University have been among the most public examples of students seeking to limit divergent voices on campus.

Next month, Dillard University will host conservative commentator Candace Owens as part of its ‘Brain Food’ lecture series. It will be the second time the school will face potential backlash for inviting ultra conservative viewpoints to the Avenue of the Oaks, following a controversial debate appearance by former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke.

A 5-4 vote could change the way HBCUs enforce and consider free speech policy with legal ramifications.

Perhaps most importantly, the federal lawsuit in mediation between the State of Maryland and constituents of its four historically black colleges appears headed for a historic settlement which will likely be appealed up to the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh has a complex history of legal opinion on race throughout his career but with billions of dollars and federal precedent at stake in the 21st-century version of the landmark Ayers v. United States HBCU equity lawsuit, a 5-4 vote could change all of that.

So what does it all mean for HBCU leaders and stakeholders? It means that instead of being exclusively distracted by the very worthy cause of discovering the truth of sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, we should also be quick and thorough studies of Kavanaugh’s positions on policy relating to issues which will be critical to HBCU survival in the next decade.

The lobbying of conservative think tanks and advocacy groups like the Heritage Foundation, led by Hampton University alumna Kay Coles and engaged with key members of HBCU advocacy groups, must begin now to ensure that possible arguments before and opinions produced by the Supreme Court consider outcomes that could be beneficial or harmful to HBCUs.

Kavanaugh matters to all Americans and institutions. We should be very well aware of the potential opportunities and challenges presented by his almost guaranteed appointment.

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