US Supreme Court steers society sharply to the right

Conservative-majority court shows determination to scrap long-established progressive policies, with rulings against affirmative action, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights

A student debt relief activists adjusts their sign after the US Supreme Court stuck down President Biden's student debt relief program on June 30, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images via AFP)
A student debt relief activists adjusts their sign after the US Supreme Court stuck down President Biden's student debt relief program on June 30, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images via AFP)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — One year after its ruling to erase abortion rights, the conservative-dominated US Supreme Court has underscored its determination to push society sharply to the right by scrapping long-established progressive policies.

In emphatic rulings this week, the court banned universities from giving minorities priority in admissions — so-called “affirmative action” — and then ruled that some business owners can refuse to serve gay couples on religious grounds.

And in its final decision for the 2022-2023 term, it struck down US President Joe Biden’s ambitious plan to cancel more than $400 billion of student debt to ease the financial stresses on lower and middle-class Americans.

Each decision saw the court’s six conservative justices under Chief Justice John Roberts flexing their biceps over its three liberals.

Republicans cheered them on as major victories were scored against flagship progressive ideologies — as was also the case in last year’s landmark overturning of abortion rights.

“I have never been prouder of Roberts Court. The Supreme Court is truly standing up for individual constitutional rights and limited government,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham declared Friday.

But Biden, a Democrat, was outraged by the rulings handed down by a court heavily influenced by three justices appointed by Donald Trump during his presidency.

He blasted the justices, saying: “This is not a normal court.”

And he declared defiantly that he would repackage his student loan relief program, saying millions of Americans “feel disappointed and discouraged” at the court’s decision.

“The court misinterpreted the Constitution,” he said.

Religious liberty?

A day after the court’s affirmative action ruling, on Friday it ruled that a Colorado graphic designer was in her rights to refuse to design a website for a same-sex couple due to her Christian beliefs.

The court rooted its decision in the US Constitution’s guarantee of free speech, saying she could not be forced to create products that effectively forced her to say things she did not agree with.

US President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, June 30, 2023, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

The decision focused on a limited category of commercial activities, like artists or businesses creating content, but added to the accumulating decisions by the court in favor of religious Americans projecting their beliefs onto society at large.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley called it a “major victory for free speech and religious liberty.”

For critics, it was a shocking erosion of anti-discrimination laws, opening the door for business owners generally to discriminate against customers who don’t fit their moral or social belief set.

“Today, the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class,” wrote Sonia Sotomayor, a justice on the court’s liberal wing.

Gender rights activists demonstrate outside the US Supreme Court on June 30, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Olivier Douliery/AFP)

Sarah Kate Ellis, the chief executive of the LGBTQ lobby GLAAD, said the decision would “bring harm and stigma” to her community.

The ruling “is yet another example of a Court that is out of touch with the supermajority of Americans,” she said.

Student debt relief

In Friday’s second case, the court overruled Biden’s program to cancel more than $400 billion worth of student debt weighing down the lives of millions of lower and middle-income Americans.

The court majority said that given the large sum, Biden had overstepped his powers.

“The question here is not whether something should be done; it is who has the authority to do it,” Roberts wrote, sounding sympathetic to the president’s motives.

Republicans hailed the court siding with their stance that there was no justification for what they considered a politically motivated program.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell called it the “student loan socialism plan” which he said would “pad the pockets” of Biden’s rich supporters.

People demonstrate outside the Supreme Court, Friday, June 30, 2023, in Washington. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

But Biden said the Supreme Court sided with Republicans in robbing “hope” from millions of people.

“Republican officials just couldn’t bear the thought of providing relief for working-class, middle-class Americans,” he said.

“The court’s decision to strike down my student debt relief program was a mistake, was wrong.”

He pledged to use “every tool at our disposal” to implement student debt relief.

“It’s good for our economy. It’s good for the country,” he said.

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