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Biden stands up to the conservative revolution of the US Supreme Court

The president is seeking a way to circumvent the sentences that are making profound changes to long-established policies, such as affirmative action

Miguel Jiménez
Joe Biden Casa Blanca
Joe Biden at the White House on Friday.Associated Press/LaPresse Evan Vucci (APN)

“This is not a normal court.” That’s what U.S. President Joe Biden replied when asked if the Supreme Court was corrupt. He didn’t go that far, but last week, he was quick to show his indignation at three sentences made by the conservative supermajority of the Supreme Court on affirmative action, LGBTQ+ discrimination and student loan relief. These rulings have continued the conservative revolution the court embarked on last year with sentences on abortion, firearms and the fight against change climate, among others. What’s more, a defiant Biden is seeking a way to take on the court and circumvent its decisions with alternative measures, but doing so, is not proving easy.

On Thursday, after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions, Biden blasted the decision and commissioned the Department of Education for new admission guidelines to achieve more inclusive and diverse campuses. “We cannot let this decision be the last word,” he said. On Friday, he stood up again to the court after it effectively killed his plan to cancel or reduce federal student loan debts for millions of Americans. “Today’s decision has closed one path, now we’re going to pursue another. I’m never going to stop fighting for you,” said Biden, who announced that he will use another legal route to provide student-debt relief.

In his speech, Biden repeatedly attacked the Republicans, pointing out that Republican members of Congress were happy to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in relief during the pandemic (loans that were forgiven), but did not support offering relief to students, from whom they had “snatched away hope.” “The hypocrisy is stunning,” he continued. “These Republican officials just couldn’t bear the thought of providing relief for working-class and middle-class Americans.”

The conservative revolution of the Supreme Court is set to mark American politics for years. The Democrats hope that backlash to the sentences will help mobilize young, Latino and Black voters ahead of the 2024 presidential election, just as the Supreme Court’s decision to struck down the federal right to abortion rallied voters at the 2022 midterm election.

Until this week, the Supreme Court appeared more willing to reach consensus. Conservative and liberal judges had joined forces in several high-profile cases to reject the most extreme lawsuits brought before the court by Republicans and conservative groups. Together they validated immigration deportation policies of the Biden government, rejected an Alabama electoral map that suppressed Black voters, and even turned a deaf ear to an even more aggressive Trumpist electoral theory, the doctrine of the independent state legislature, which threatened to undermine the foundations of democracy by leaving the electoral rules and decisions handed down by their parliaments unchecked by state courts. Conservatives and liberals also preserved the system that gives preference to Native American families in foster care and adoption proceedings of Native children.

What’s more, there was unanimity in other important decisions. The court unanimously rejected a lawsuit alleging social media platforms should be held liable for enabling a lethal attack on a Turkish nightclub, and sided with a religious mail carrier who refused to deliver packages on Sundays due to his faith.

But this vision of the court was a mirage. Its yearly term has ended with a sharp shift to the right, with the conservative and liberal justices exchanging fierce words, that at times appear person, as seen with the attacks between the two Black justices on the bench: Clarence Thomas and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

In addition to the rulings on affirmative action and student-debt relief, the Supreme Court also ruled in favor of Lorie Smith, a graphic artist who wanted to design wedding websites that refuse to work with same-sex couples. According to Ben Olinsky, vice president of the Center for American Progress, the verdict gives businesses a “license to discriminate.”

The case also reflects the kind of culture battles the court’s conservative majority is willing to wage. No same-sex couple had asked the designer for a website for their wedding. She didn’t even make websites for weddings. It was all a custom-made case promoted by an ultra-conservative group to win a battle against the LGBTQ+ community.

The last three sentences have reminded the public that the court’s conservative majority — achieved thanks to the three appointments Donald Trump made during his term — is there to stay. Since Richard Nixon, no president has been able to appoint as many Supreme Court justices. Despite the fact that the Republicans have only won the popular vote in one presidential election since 1992 (the 2004 election won by George W. Bush), the Supreme Court has six conservative judges and only three liberals.

“After a multi-decade, special interest-funded effort to reshape the federal judiciary, the fanatical MAGA right have captured the Supreme Court and achieved dangerous, regressive policies that they could never attain at the ballot box,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, while Trump and other Republicans celebrated each controversial sentence.

The court is relatively young (the oldest Conservative justices are Clarence Thomas, 75, and Samuel Alito, 73) and the seats are for life. Some Democratic lawmakers have proposed expanding the court or limiting terms, but Biden has neither a majority to approve such measures nor the desire to do so. He believes that this would only serve to further politicize the justice system.

Progressive female judges have raised their voices in private votes. “In all respects, the Court today exceeds its proper and limited role,” Elena Kagan wrote of the college loan ruling. The decision "rolls back decades of precedents and transcendental progress," said Sonia Sotomayor about affirmative action. "It is wrong, profoundly wrong," the three progressive judges argued about the web designer's ruling.

“I think the court has misinterpreted the Constitution,” Biden said on Friday in a speech that surprised experts such as Noah Rosenblum, an associate professor at the NYU School of Law. “This is a very direct confrontation with the Court — much more so than after Dobbs [the case that struck down the federal right to abortion]. Wild stuff,” said Rosenblum in a message on Twitter.

Scandal over luxury vacations gifted to justices

The Supreme Court has not only been in the news because of its controversial rulings, but also because of several scandals, which have called into question the ethics of some of the justices. Newspaper revelations have shown that two conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, received undisclosed invitations and lavish gifts from large Republican donors.

According to ProPublica, for the past 20 years, Thomas and his wife, Victoria Ginni Thomas, have received luxury hotel stays, private jet flights and cruises thanks to the generosity of their billionaire friend Harlan Crow, a prominent real estate magnate and Republican donor. In Alito's case, he went to Alaska for a fishing trip on a private plane in 2008 that belonged to a fund manager whose business interests have come before the Supreme Court. Alito, who did not step aside from the cases, denies any wrongdoing.

In May, Chief Justice John Roberts said, without offering specific details, that the court is taking steps to “adhere to the highest standards of conduct." Democrats have called for more regulation and transparency.

”This MAGA-captured Supreme Court feels free to accept lavish gifts and vacations from their powerful, big-monied friends, all while they refuse to help everyday Americans,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday.

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