When I look at the problems the Democrats have with this topic, to me it’s at least partially a problem with strategic thinking. And that’s the main risk of buying too much into what (I think) is a false narrative about the Supreme Court that emerged in the 60s and 70s.
We had some very important Supreme Court decisions with that historic span of the court–Brown, Griswold, Miranda, Loving, Roe, to name some of the biggest ones. I think it created a perception that the Supreme Court is a natural “ally” in the battle for civil rights.
Well, that Supreme Court certainly was one. But what about the Supreme Court from 1788 to around 1950? That Supreme Court had an abysmal record in most of those areas of law. That should have maybe suggested that not understanding the Supreme Court is not a “natural ally” but a political institution that behaves based on its composition. I think the right realized this and went hard to take control over it, and exceeded. The Democrats appeared almost numb or disinterested in the topic until literally Trump won election and then they were like “oh shit.” But it was kind of an annoying “oh shit”, because the GOP didn’t run this plan in secret, they broadcast it for 40 years.
Another thing I also think is worth remembering, is having the Supreme Court on your side doesn’t always translate into meaningful reality. For example we all (rightfully) celebrate Brown, but many schools in the South took over a decade to integrate. Additionally, many Southern districts started to defund their local schools and white parents fled to private schools en masse. There are many districts in the South, through district line drawing, funding games etc, are basically just as segregated now as they were in the pre-Brown era, and possibly even funding the “black” schools worse.
There was a good article (I think in the NYT) about a district in Mississippi where almost all of the district’s children are black. This is a rural MS district–now, the district’s population isn’t almost all black, there are plenty of whites. They almost all go to a private school system. The NYT article chronicles a popular High School principal who was desperately trying to get a tax levy passed for some funding for his cripplingly underfunded school. The levy got like 55% of the vote–but Mississippi law many years ago was changed specifically to make such levies hard–it requires 60% of the vote for such a levy to pass in Mississippi.
When the principal was on the campaign trail trying to gin up votes for the levy, there were white residents who literally said “we aren’t paying more taxes for the colored school.” That’s right out of 1945, and that happens right now, in spite of Brown.
A good ruling is…good, glad it happened, but it’s not the end of the fight. I think large parts of the Democratic party have bought into a false narrative that winning key court battles is a form of permanent victory. The reality is ground work needs to be done, opinions need to be changed. The one successful movement in recent years that stands out in my mind along those lines is the gay marriage debate. While it was ultimately legalized for most of the country via a Supreme Court ruling, Democrats had successfully waged a 12 year campaign, starting the early 2000s when Republicans “went after” gay marriage by passing silly defense of marriage laws, and it was starting to overturn some of them and even get gay marriage legalized in state by state. Not in the courts, but in referendums and through State legislatures. They built a genuine national consensus on that topic, which is why despite the coup de grace being a Supreme Court case, most people now strongly support gay marriage–enough so that even if Alito’s court overrules Obergefell, a lot of States will probably very quickly pass legislation formally sanctioning it.