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Supreme Court Commentary and Implications for Philanthropy

A small statue of the Lady Justice figure holding a set of scales

Each year, the end of June is fraught with anticipation about the biggest, and often most divisive, issues before the United States Supreme Court. We know that 2023 was no different, especially as we awaited the decision on Affirmative Action and contemplated its potential impact on the work of nonprofits and philanthropy. Now that the outcome of this and other critically important cases are known, we must face the way these changes inform and have an impact on our work. Often, at least in the short-term, this leaves us with more questions than answers.

In addition to ruling that using race as a consideration for admission to higher education institutions is no longer permissible, the SCOTUS delivered opinions on several other critically important topics. Each ruling contributes to a changing landscape for philanthropy. The Indian Child Welfare Act was upheld. State-based threats to elections and democracy were struck down. “Home equity theft” was ruled illegal in a Minnesota case. Student loans will not be forgiven according to the Biden plan. And businesses were sent the message that they may discriminate based on sexual orientation. This array of rulings—only a sample of this court’s work—reminds us that each term feels like a mix of steps forward and back; the continuous shifting and re-shaping of society the only constant.

On July 25, MCF will provide a legal briefing on the Affirmative Action case, delivered by attorneys from MCF members Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies and Faegre Drinker. We will explore the extent to which that decision may impact the strategies of philanthropy and our nonprofit partners as we seek to confront and remedy the systemic, race-based disparities that exist in nearly every aspect of US life. And if you have particular expertise or resources related to any of the other recently decided cases, please let us know. We would like to highlight the knowledge and resources of our members who work in these issue areas and have expertise to share with the broader philanthropic community.

In the meantime, let’s continue to forge a path forward with both urgency and patience as we work toward the equitable and just society that this nation, and its people, deserve.

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