Khiara Bridges remembers the exact moment she lost faith in the Supreme Court. At first, at the start of Donald Trump’s presidency, Bridges—a professor who now teaches at UC–Berkeley School of Law—held out hope that the court might be “this great protector of individual civil liberties right when we desperately needed it to be.” Then came 2018. That June, the justices issued Trump v. Hawaii, which upheld the president’s entry ban for citizens of eight countries, six of them Muslim-majority. Suddenly, Bridges told me, she realized, “The court is not going to save us. It is going to let Trump do whatever he wants to do. And it’s going to help him get away with it.”
Four years later, the justices completely shattered whatever remaining optimism Bridges could muster about the court by overruling Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. When the decision came down on June 24, she got a migraine for the first time in a decade. The image of the court as a majestic guardian of liberty was, she concluded, “a complete lie.” And it wasn’t just about her own personal feelings, either: Now she had to teach her students about the work of an institution that made her sick to contemplate.
Bridges is not alone. At law schools across the country, thousands of professors of constitutional law are currently facing a court that, in their view, has let the mask of neutrality fall off completely. Six conservative justices are steering the court head-oninto the most controversial debates of the day and consistently siding with the Republican Party. Increasingly, the conservative majority does not even bother to provide any reasoning for its decisions, exploiting the shadow docket to overhaul the law without a word of explanation. The crisis reached its zenith between September 2021 and June 2022, when the Supreme Court let Texas impose its vigilante abortion ban through the shadow docket, then abolished a 50-year-old right to bodily autonomy by overruling Roe v. Wade. Now law professors are faced with a quandary: How—and why—should you teach law to students while the Supreme Court openly changes the meaning of the Constitution to align with the GOP?
A version of this question has long dogged the profession, which has fought over the distinction between law and politics for about as long as it has existed. For decades, however, the court has handed enough victories to both sides of the political spectrum that it has avoided a full-on academic revolt against its legitimacy. That dynamic changed when Trump appointed Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to replace far less conservative predecessors and created a Republican-appointed supermajority, a coalition further aided by the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to a seat that should have been filled by Barack Obama. The cascade of far-right rulings in 2022 confirmed that the new court is eager to shred long-held precedents it deems too liberal as quickly as possible. The pace and scale of this revolution is requiring law professors to adapt on several levels—intellectually, pedagogically, and emotionally.