IACHR urges the Supreme Court of the United States to Ensure Equal Rights and Non-Discrimination

July 26, 2023

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses deep concern over recent decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) that limit anti-discrimination protections for members of groups that have historically experienced discrimination.

In SFFA v. Harvard, the SCOTUS ruled on June 29th, 2023 that the admissions policies of Harvard College and the University of North Carolina, which considered the race of individual applicants in making admissions decisions, were unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution and violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This ruling overturned legal precedent that for over four decades has served as a valuable tool to help institutions of higher education provide students with the educational benefits of a diverse student body.

Affirmative action helps alleviate historical injustices and ongoing racial discrimination that impede African American students' access to higher education. The continuing intersectional inequalities that disproportionately affect persons of African descent, have been examined by IACHR and in particular in the report titled 'African Americans, Police Use of Force, and Human Rights in the United States'.

OAS Member States of the must end discriminatory laws, policies, and practices, as well as undertake reparative actions, including targeted policies and affirmative actions that effectively address these issues. Such measures should ensure equitable and quality access and equal opportunities for Afro-descendants at all educational levels, ranging from schools to higher education institutions. Additionally, strategies must be established to combat educational abandonment and promote continued educational advancement within this group.

Similarly, in the case of 303 Creative LLC et al v. Elenis, on June 30th, 2023, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution permitted a website designer to refuse to design wedding websites for same-sex couples.. This ruling could limit the reach of anti-discrimination measures, particularly in the context of products or services involving art or expression. As a result, the decision creates an avenue for discrimination based on sex, race, and sexual orientation, among other bases.

The IACHR emphasizes that the right to equality and non-discrimination is deeply rooted in all documents and standards of the Inter-American human rights system. It serves as a fundamental pillar of the Organization of American States (OAS) and plays a crucial role in promoting justice and fairness. Furthermore, as stated by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, in the current stage of international law's evolution, the principle of equality and non-discrimination has attained the status of jus cogens. This principle forms the foundation of both national and international legal systems, permeating the entire legal structure and underscoring its significance and importance.

States must refrain from enacting discriminatory regulations or those with discriminatory effects on specific individuals and groups in the exercise of their rights. They also have a duty to eliminate discriminatory laws and practices, adopting measures necessary to ensure effective equality for all persons.

The Commission reaffirms that the aforementioned decisions represent a regression from measures aimed at achieving genuine equality in the United States, in that they disproportionately affect persons who have historically suffered discrimination and those at a higher risk of exclusion, including African-Americans, women, LGBTQI individuals, and religious and ethnic minorities, among others.

The Inter-American Commission urgently calls upon all institutions at the Federal, state, and local levels to take all necessary measures to protect the human rights of all individuals under their jurisdiction. These measures should guarantee not only formal equality but also substantive equality for all.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate stems from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as an advisory body to the OAS on the matter. The IACHR is made up of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 169/23

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