Like every year, the beginning of July marks the conclusion of the annual activities of the US Supreme Court and the publication of its ‘verdicts’, i.e. the opinions expressed by the majority of the nine judges that compose it. The current composition of the Court, albeit nominally apolitical, sees a predominance of judges fromconservative legal orientationthree of whom were nominated by the Trump administration: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
The Court ruled in particular on four important decisions.
The end of Affirmative action
With the term Affirmative action means the inclusion policy on an ethnic-racial basis adopted by several important American universities, which in their admission process award ‘extra points’ to students belonging to ethnic groups socially deemed disadvantaged, such as African Americans and Hispanics. The reputation of the AA has always been highly controversial: its critics consider it a form of discrimination negatively affecting students of white or Asian descent, who are deemed overrepresented; instead, its proponents see it as an essential measure to ensure diversity in the student body and provide opportunities for talented students who have nevertheless faced limitations and obstacles due to their ethnic minority status.
Chief Justice John Roberts and the five conservative justices ruled the unconstitutionality of the practice, which would constitute a violation of the equal protection clause, which prohibits racial discrimination by government entities. Roberts has however ‘moderate’ the final judgmentreiterating that universities can in any case take into account the individual experiences of a candidate during the selection process, if also determined by their ethnic origin.
Entrepreneurship and LGBTQI+ rights
Roberts and the five conservative judges ruled that a anti-discrimination law of the state Colorado that would have forced a Christian web-designer to create marriage sites even for a hypothetical gay client is unconstitutionalas conflicting with the first amendmentwhich protects freedom of expression. In the majority opinion, written by Judge Neil Gorsuch, the prevailing view is that laws such as Colorado’s set a dangerous precedent, opening up the possibility of forcing professionals of all religious and ideological professions to provide services for opposing clients.
In the ‘dissident opinion’ written by the Court’s three liberal Justices, Justice Sotomayor argues that the Constitution gives no right to refuse to provide a service to a member of a discriminated group and that Colorado’s antidiscrimination law does not conflict with the right to freedom of expression , limiting itself only to preventing a discriminatory behavior of traders in the business exercise.
The cancellation of the university debt
In a defeat for the Biden administration, Roberts and five conservative judges ruled that the federal government’s plan to cancel the debt of about 43 million American citizens is unconstitutional, as it stems from a misuse of powers vested in the Department of Education by federal law: the department, according to the Supreme Court, can change the terms of its education plans loan forgivenessbut don’t alter them completely without the backing of a reform passed by Congress.
Biden strongly criticized the court’s decision and announced a new plan of debt cancellation always passing through the Department of Education, albeit with a much more restricted audience of possible beneficiaries.
North Carolina e il ‘redistricting’
However, they are also not lacking victories unexpected for the side liberal of the Court, as in the case of the dispute between the state legislature of the North Carolinacontrolled by the Republicans, and the Supreme Court of the same state, which had ruled unconstitutional the plans to redefine the constituencies launched by the legislative body in question, citing the lack of electoral representation of different areas of the state inhabited mostly by people of African American ethnicity.
With a majority opinion written by Roberts, conservative Amy Coney Barret and three liberal justices, the Supreme Court ruled that state legislatures are not the only bodies responsible for drafting and approving election maps, legitimizing the actions of the Local Supreme Court.
Bad news for the Republicans, who hoped to deprive local judicial bodies to implement their controversial redistricting plans undisturbed also in the rest of the country, and good news for the Democratic Party, which will be able to leverage this precedent to challenge other episodes of gerrymandering.
This article, edited by Antonio Junior Luchini, was produced by in collaboration with the editorial staff of Jefferson – Lettere sull’America, a newsletter edited by Matteo Muzio
Cover photo EPA/SHAWN THEW